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Voters Face Decisions on Education, Leadership : Pomona mayor: Cortez and Ursua crticize the other's style. They also differ on contracting out fire services.


As Tuesday's mayoral runoff in Pomona draws near, there's one label both candidates are scrambling to dodge: politician.

City Councilman Tomas Ursua is the insider, Planning Commissioner Eddie Cortez insists. After all, Ursua has served on the council for four years and envisions himself at the mayor's desk, carrying out the nuts and bolts of his duties with pen in hand.

What could be more bureaucratic?

No, Ursua counters. Cortez is the consummate politician, all smiles and handshakes, and a member of myriad civic organizations.

In fact, as Election Day approaches, Cortez does appear to be running the more classic political campaign. While neither candidate has forked out big bucks, Cortez has outspent Ursua 3 to 1. As of April 3, Cortez spent $16,550, while Ursua spent $5,194.

Cortez has also garnered the endorsements of the Daily Bulletin and several people who were defeated in the mayoral primary. And, he has pulled contributions from the Pomona Fairplex management and two political action committees, including $1,500 from the San Bernardino Public Employee's Assn.

Ursua, on the other hand, said he has sought no endorsements, although the Mexican American Political Assn. has announced it is backing him. Aside from several community debates and sporadic cable television events, Ursua has placed his energy in door-to-door community outreach, he said.

"For me, the main issue has been that I am a departure from politics as usual," said Ursua, who has been involved with Latino Forum, a group that promotes Latino political participation. "For Eddie, it's a popularity contest. I'm a community activist. I was born and raised in this city."

Both are Latino, and whomever takes the mayoral seat April 26 will head Pomona's first Latino-majority council in its 105-year history. On March 2, bilingual educator Cristina Carrizosa and Marco Robles, director of a substance abuse program and a Latino community activist, were voted into office.

They join Nell Soto, Ken West, Willie White, and Paula Lantz on the seven-member council.

Pomona has the largest population of any San Gabriel Valley city--131,723--and was 51% Latino in 1990, when the last U.S. Census was taken. The Pomona Unified School District is more than 60% Latino.

Ursua and Cortez differ pointedly on one issue: Ursua is eager to explore the possibility of contracting fire services with the county, while Cortez is fiercely opposed to the notion, preferring to work at streamlining the city's own Fire Department.

But on other themes of the city, the differences between Ursua and Cortez largely come down to style.

Ursua, 37, points to his work as a contractor on single-family homes, and his education in urban planning, as tools that will help him run the city effectively.

"I have a sense of what it takes to pencil out a project," he said.

But Cortez counters that if Ursua wants to pencil out projects and implement the nuts and bolts of city projects, he should have applied for the job of city manager.

"The mayor's job primarily is to set direction, and that is as far as we should go. The council should not be involved in the everyday running of the city," Cortez said. "He's saying that the mayor's job should be administrative and not ceremonial ribbon-cutting. I'm saying the mayor should be out there with the people, being promotional, making himself available to the public."

Ursua points to several successes during his time on the council. He established the Community Volunteer Police Patrol 3 1/2 years ago, and hopes to expand it so residents can patrol their own communities.

He also brought to Pomona the Small Business Development Center, which offers assistance to small business.

Ursua said he also has a vision of Pomona's long-term needs, and the assets that can be improved upon.

"Pomona has been economically stagnant for the longest time. We don't have a good retail base, but the people are clearly an asset, so what are the needs of this labor base?" he said.

"We are a transportation hub, surrounded by freeways with a new Metro Rail coming in, so how are those assets that we can leverage in our favor?"

Ursua said he also plans to focus on the needs of the city's youth, streamlining the government bureaucracy and the red tape that discourages business--including Pomona's steep 10% utility tax--and injecting competition into city government by contracting services from private industry if the price is right.

Cortez, 52, owner of a Pomona service station, touts similar principles.

"On the utility tax, we both agree that it's too high, and we both believe it should be removed," Cortez said. "But he's making false promises and saying when he gets in, he's going to remove it. When we find revenues to replace it, I will do so, and I will do it in a timely fashion."

Cortez also said his six years on the Planning Commission equip him for government service.

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