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Legal Infractions Cost Councilman a Coveted Title : Politics: Luis Hernandez is again rebuffed in his efforts to attain the ceremonial post of mayor pro tem.

April 18, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Huntington Park Councilman Luis Hernandez's campaign violations in two municipal elections apparently will cost him the ceremonial title of mayor pro tem, which carries with it a chance to move up to mayor in a year.

When the council reorganizes Monday, current Mayor Pro Tem Ric Loya is expected to take the mayor's seat, and veteran Councilman William Cunningham is expected to become mayor pro tem. Hernandez is being passed over for the third year in a row.

The snub is particularly pointed, City Hall sources said, because the councilman has been lobbying his colleagues for the nomination for months.

His efforts, however, were met with stone-faced responses from Loya, Councilman Thomas E. Jackson and Mayor Raul Perez, who said last week that they will not endorse the 32-year-old Hernandez as mayor pro tem.

"I wouldn't want to give him a more visible role on the council," Perez said. "He has been his own worst lobbyist" because of his actions in the past year, he added.

The snub irks Hernandez, some say, because Loya was elected to the council only a year ago and immediately was appointed mayor pro tem, and because Cunningham has already been mayor pro tem four times.

"(Hernandez) is going to be crushed," said one city official who asked not to be identified.

Hernandez did not return several phone calls from The Times.

In Huntington Park, as in most area cities, the two posts are rotated among council members each year. The mayor pro tem spot usually leads to the mayor's seat, but both are ceremonial roles and afford the holder no special power.

Some council members consider being mayor an honor. Others complain about having to appear at every ground-breaking, ribbon-cutting and political mixer. Still, most council members have used the title, mostly in campaign literature or in endorsing other candidates.

"Obviously the title of mayor is nice, but it's only a title," Chief Administrative Officer Donald Jeffers said last week. "(The mayor) has the same voting power as anyone else."

Hernandez's hopes for being appointed mayor pro tem this year were dashed in March, when he was fined $22,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission for 11 violations, including filing late campaign disclosure statements and making improper cash expenditures during a 1989 campaign against a utility users tax and in his successful 1990 election to the City Council.

Since the violations were publicized, Hernandez's already chilly relationship with his colleagues has turned colder. At a recent meeting, Jackson--a consistently vocal foe of Hernandez's--asked him to resign.

"This is not acceptable behavior for a councilman," Jackson said after the meeting. "Why would (Hernandez) break the law, then downplay it like it was nothing?"

Others said Hernandez's confrontational style has annoyed other council members. "You can't antagonize people all year, then turn around and ask them to support you for mayor pro tem," Perez said. "It doesn't work that way."

Jackson and Cunningham agreed, but said they are most offended by Hernandez's attitude about the violations.

"We've all made mistakes," Cunningham said, "but he acts so arrogant about it, like it's no big deal. That's what floors me."

Hernandez said the violations were the result of his inexperience as a politician. He has said he plans to pay the fines and wants to move forward with city business.

But Loya said the violations made him reconsider his early endorsement of Hernandez for mayor pro tem. "If he makes a scene, I will just wave (a copy of the violations) in front of his face," Loya said.

The feud between Jackson and Hernandez has been simmering since Hernandez appeared before the council in 1989 and demanded that Jackson resign because of alleged improper dealings with the Huntington Park Casino.

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