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Where Did All the Vital Issues Go in the 1st District? : Politics: The four Latinos vying to be the next supervisor are relying on personality to attract voters--at the community's expense.

January 13, 1991|Rodolfo Acuna | Rodolfo Acuna is professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Northridge

The race to represent the newly created 1st Supervisorial District confirms an old adage of politics: When issues receive little but lip-service, money does the real talking. That's especially so when the candidates lack significant experience with power and the community of voters is not in the habit of acting as a community.

So far, the campaigns of Sarah Flores, Charles Calderon, Art Torres and Gloria Molina have mostly been tied to their personalities. Political fireworks, leading up to the Jan. 22 primary, have been infrequent, reflecting the posture of restraint adopted by the four. Character sniping, including a whispering telephone campaign targeting the front-runners, has been confined to the loyalists, who seem more concerned with being "right" than with building a foundation for empowerment.

One price of wedding a campaign's fortunes to the personality of the candidate is a limited discussion of the issues. Another is a lost opportunity for progressives to assemble a coalition that can hold the winner accountable. Unfortunately, supporters seem all-too willing to pay the price of asking little from their candidates.

How to secure public safety is an issue high on everybody's list in the 1st District, yet the four principal candidates to replace Pete Schabarum have largely sidestepped it. Building more prisons for our young and poor, the favorite advice of former Gov. George Deukmejian and Schabarum, is certainly a fashionable way to deal with the district's gang problem. But that just hides the contributions of county government to the problem.

Safety from law enforcement is another neglected issue. The Republican-dominated Board of Supervisors has given Sheriff Sherman Block virtual carte blanche . Police brutality is as common today as it was 20 years ago, when journalist Ruben Salazar was cut down by an L.A. County sheriff's deputy. From 1985 to mid-1990, 202 deputies were involved in shootings countywide. At least 56 people were shot under highly questionable circumstances; 49 of them were minorities.

This sad record and what to do about it have not been discussed by any of the candidates.

The new supervisor will also be a major player in mass-transit policy, sharing power on the board of the Southern California Rapid Transit District and overseeing the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. These agencies have long ignored Latinos in their planning and hiring, whether they be from the Eastside or the San Gabriel Valley. Yet the candidates have been mum on that score.

Consider the proposed routes of Metro Rail. The Santa Ana corridor projected to run under Whittier Boulevard would principally serve white middle-class Orange County. Because of the need to maintain a designated speed, only three stops throughout the eastern portion of the county are proposed. Planners have ignored a possible Metro Rail line serving Boyle Heights, Montebello, El Monte, Hacienda Heights and the Pomona Valley, all containing major Latino and white communities in the San Gabriel Valley.

Furthermore, how have 1st District residents benefitted from the $7.5 billion spent to build the 300-mile commuter-rail system? Not even a whimper was heard from the Latino community when it was disclosed that many of the subcontracts were granted to companies fraudulently claiming disadvantaged minority status. Adding insult to injury, the "Hispanics" received only 4.8% of the $138.7 billion in subcontracts let by the RTD, only 5.5% of the $127.5 billion spent by the LACTC.

How to ensure that potential minority contractors comply with the law and that 1st District workers receive their fair share of transit jobs should be issues near the top of the candidates' agendas. Instead, the Latino candidates seem more concerned about lining up their next campaign contribution. It is not reassuring when the core of a candidate's constituency is made up of contractors, not people.

While health and housing are important issues in the 1st District, supporters have rarely pressed the candidates to be specific. A no less neglected concern has been immigration. Thousands of new immigrants have made not only East Los Angeles but the San Gabriel Valley a port of entry. The county's indifference to the scarcity of jobs and houses has spawned a street-vendor economy and armies of homeless workers in the district. The immigrants, whether documented or not, have helped build Los Angeles and deserve to be treated as constituents.

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