POMONA — In the midst of her first reelection campaign, Councilwoman Nell Soto says she's still a valiant enemy of the Old Boy Network.
Her opponents in the March 5 election, however, seem more concerned about her friends, who they say include special interest contributors and recalled Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant.
Neither the Old Boy Network nor Bryant is on the ballot, of course, but they have emerged as the prime campaign targets.
Soto, 64, said her opponents are bent on returning Pomona to the control of the people who nearly ruined it, the group she has dubbed the Old Boy Network.
"The people who are supporting my opponents are those people who have been kicked out of City Hall, the old leeches, the old hangers-on, the people who have gotten rich off Pomona taxpayers," she said.
Meanwhile, Robert Jackson, a 33-year-old teacher who has become the most aggressive campaigner among her three opponents, said the removal of Soto from office is the logical follow-up to the recall of Bryant, her political ally on the council who was ousted in June.
"She was and is the other side of the Clay Bryant coin," Jackson said. "We must rid ourselves, as we did of Clay Bryant, of those responsible for the turmoil this city has faced."
Both Jackson and another candidate, Timothy Smith, a 41-year-old air-conditioning technician, have accused Soto of catering to special interests. Smith said Soto has given the city "the worst representation in recent history" and "has been a constant source of embarrassment."
Jackson and Smith are appealing to the same block of voters: those who advocated Bryant's recall. Bryant was targeted in part for his role in effecting wholesale change at City Hall, including the firing of a city administrator and police chief and the ouster of other key officials.
The fourth candidate in the race, Reyes Rachel Madrigal, a 57-year-old associate professor at Mt. San Antonio College, is trying to remain above the fray. She has avoided criticizing Soto directly, saying only that "the image of Pomona has suffered as a result of the infighting that has occurred."
Madrigal and Soto are Latinas in a district whose population of about 22,000 is estimated at 43% Latino.
Soto won election to the council four years ago and in 1989 forged a "new majority" with Bryant and Councilman Tomas Ursua that remolded city government before the coalition fell apart, first with a split between Ursua and Bryant, and then with Bryant's recall.
Soto said the political turmoil has produced positive changes, including a new city staff that is more responsive to citizens. "Sure, there's been a lot of bickering and you know why?" she said. "Because change is hard to come by. . . . Change is hard to accept by those who have been in power for the last 30, 40 or 50 years."
Soto was born in Pomona and counts her great-grandson as the ninth generation of her family to live in the city. As she was growing up, she said, Pomona was a segregated town, with Latinos barred from the municipal pool except on days set aside for them, exiled to a special section at movie theaters and excluded from living north of Holt Avenue.
Discrimination and growing up poor shaped her politics and her attitude toward the Pomona establishment. Active in the Democratic Party most of her life, she helped her husband, Phil, win election to the state Assembly in the 1960s, and she ran campaigns for other politicians before winning a seat herself on the Pomona City Council in 1987.
She knows many city officials throughout the region because of her job as local government and community affairs representative for the Southern California Rapid Transit District. Through her contacts in city government, she recruited the current Pomona city administrator, Julio Fuentes, and other newcomers who have filled key positions in the city.
Soto lists among her achievements the formation of a community group to fight gangs, the initiation of a volunteer mounted patrol and a mobile substation for the Police Department, and the installation of new playground equipment in neighborhood parks in her district.
Both Jackson and Smith have accused her of siding with special interests, such as billboard companies and gambling club promoters, and have criticized her vote for a motel project on Holt Avenue.
Jackson has strongly criticized Soto for accepting nearly $3,000 in campaign contributions from the billboard industry and $1,000 each from City Atty. Arnold Glasman and Miller & Schroeder, a bond consulting firm employed by the city.
Jackson said the donations represent a conflict of interest because Soto voted to hire Glasman and the bond firm and has been backing a proposal that would allow billboard companies "to keep their dilapidated eyesores in our city."