POMONA — Latinos officially became the majority of the population here in the 1990 U.S. Census, and they could win the mayor's office and a majority of City Council seats for the first time in the March 2 municipal election.
Candidates insist that ethnicity is not an issue. Instead, they are debating a controversial deal allowing new billboards in Pomona, a plan to disband the city's Fire Department and contract with the county, and various proposals to combat crime, promote economic growth and curb graffiti.
But the election's historic significance could be the completion of a transfer of political power in a city that for years was dominated by Anglo business and professional interests.
Just eight years ago, Latino and black plaintiffs sued the city, charging that Pomona's elections discriminated against them because council members were elected citywide, instead of by district, thus diluting minority voting strength. The city won the suit, but voters changed the system anyway by adopting a 1990 ballot measure that created six council districts, leaving the mayoral seat as the only office voted on citywide.
The current council contains one black and two Latinos.
This year, two of the three leading mayoral candidates are Latino; one Latino council candidate, Marco A. Robles, is running unopposed, and another, Cristina Carrizosa, has a strong chance of defeating incumbent Boyd Bredenkamp. A sweep would give Latinos four council seats, counting the mayor who sits as a council member.
The 1990 Census put Pomona's population at 51% Latino, 28% Anglo, 14% black, 6% Asian and 1% other groups. Anglos are believed to outnumber Latinos in voter registration, although figures were not available.
The candidates universally praise the city's diversity, but ethnic solidarity could play a role March 2.
"It's an undercurrent out there," mayoral candidate Paul D. Geiger said. "I've heard the theme, 'This is an Hispanic town; it ought to have an Hispanic mayor.' "
Another mayoral candidate, city Planning Commissioner Eddie Cortez, said some Anglo voters resent the demographic changes in Pomona "and will go to their grave without ever voting for a Latino."
But Geiger, Cortez and the other front-runner, Councilman Tomas Ursua, say they are trying to appeal to the whole community, not just their own ethnic groups. Geiger is Anglo; Cortez and Ursua are Latino.
Cortez and Ursua are the only contenders among the eight candidates for mayor who have ever run for office in Pomona before. Geiger is a political novice, but he has the backing of outgoing Mayor Donna Smith and a number of other community leaders.
Others in the field are Kevin (Mr. P) Ausmus, the leader of a rock band, who is campaigning to become the "rock 'n' roll mayor"; James Robert Reynolds, a former horse trainer whose credentials include an understanding of the problems of the homeless that he acquired by being homeless part of last year; Ramon P. Romero, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy, whose campaign has focused on public safety; David W. Smith, an engineering administrator who says he is planning an innovative youth center that would include automotive training and a teen night club, and James Wilkins, an associate minister at a Montclair church who has been a city planning commissioner for nearly two years.
Unless a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held April 20 among the top two finishers.
Three council seats are at stake.
Robles, who administers a substance abuse program, is the only candidate in District 2, which takes in a southern portion of Pomona, mostly between Garey Avenue and the Corona Expressway.
As leader of the Latino Forum, Robles has worked to promote political participation among Latinos and has encouraged immigrants to seek citizenship. This election, he said, may show that "a community that has demonstrated apathy is coming to life."
In District 3, which takes in southeastern Pomona, Bredenkamp, who won election in 1990 as the successor to recalled Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant, is facing Carrizosa, a bilingual resource teacher at a local elementary school. After failing to qualify for the ballot, Albert J. Midgette, who publishes a black business directory, is running a write-in campaign.
Carrizosa, who immigrated to Pomona from Mexico 29 years ago, is portraying her own struggle and achievements--including college degrees, a family machine shop business and a teaching career--as examples of what can be accomplished by starting with very little.
The candidate has accused the city of squandering money on redevelopment projects and failing to respond to the needs of the community. She said people have no confidence that the Police Department will respond to their calls in a timely manner.
But Bredenkamp said: "As long as we have council members that bash the Police Department, we're going to have trouble getting cooperation from anybody."