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Newly Elected Mayor Calls for Council Unity : Politics: Eddie Cortez, who defeated Tomas Ursua in a close runoff, sees himself as a consensus builder.


Pomona has elected business owner Eddie Cortez as its first Latino mayor in the city's 105-year history.

Known for his broad smile, quick handshakes and ties to myriad community organizations, Cortez has a reputation as a consensus builder in a city long known for its fierce political infighting.

"Bickering on the council ends now," promised Cortez, a service station owner and planning commissioner who received 51.4% of the vote in Tuesday's runoff election.

The 20% voter turnout Tuesday was slightly higher than the 17% turnout for the March 2 primary election in which voters sent Cortez and four-year council member Tomas Ursua into the mayoral runoff. Election of either would have strengthened the city's first Latino majority on the council.

In the March primary, two Latino candidates--educator Christina Carrizosa and Marco Robles, a Latino community activist and director of a substance abuse program--were elected, and Councilman Ken West easily won reelection.

Local Latino leaders heralded the change on the council.

The new Latino majority would ensure that Pomona's burgeoning Latino community, more than half of the city's population, will be better represented, said Francisco Suarez, an official with the Mexican American Political Assn. The group endorsed Ursua.

"There's almost a 100% consensus among Latinos that their neighborhoods have been neglected by the city, and the neighborhoods in the south of the city look the same as they did when I came here," said Carrizosa, who immigrated to south Pomona about 30 years ago from Mexico. "The Latinos haven't had a true feeling of empowerment.

The new council members will be sworn in at the council's Monday night regular meeting. Cortez, Robles and Carrizosa will join council members Ken West, Nell Soto, Willie White and Paula Lantz on the seven-member council.

Cortez, who has served on the Planning Commission for six years, has promised to be anything but "business as usual"--the label he pinned on Ursua.

"For so long people have wanted unity on their council, and now I think they have found a mayor to bring that about," said Cortez, a 30-year Pomona resident.

Several council members said the infusion of new members will help the City Council move out of its decade-long era of divisiveness. The council has been split in the past between liberal and conservative factions, and by simple personality conflicts. The new council has vowed to strive for consensus to bring new sources of sales tax revenue and jobs to the city.

"I think there will be less hostility on the council," Soto said. "For one thing, I won't have the mayor shooting barbs at me. The city will go forward at this point--there's nowhere to go but up."

White agreed: "I think the (new) council will remove some of the gridlock of the old council and come to consensus quicker. I think you'll see this new council moving more aggressively toward bringing in developers who can provide jobs and programs oriented toward youths."

Ursua, 37, an owner-builder of small-scale housing projects, had also promised to build a consensus on the seven-member council, but fell 231 votes short of having a chance.

During the campaign he insisted that he differed from Cortez in that he did not want to be a "smile in a suit" who glad-hands voters.

Leading the eight mayoral candidates in the primary, Ursua had called for a leaner government that could ease the tax that adds about 10% to utility bills in Pomona. He has done graduate work in urban planning at UCLA and argued that he had the qualifications to develop policy and change the way the city operates.

Ursua said Wednesday morning that his political plans are on hold. "Now I'll go back to being a private citizen and continue my community activism." Ursua, a Pomona native who forced Mayor Donna Smith into a runoff two years ago, attributed his loss to a concerted effort by the town's "power structure" to keep him out of the mayor's seat.

Cortez, defeated in a City Council bid two years ago, attributed his victory Tuesday night in part to his opposition to a plan supported by Ursua to contract with the county for fire protection services.

Fire protection "is better left to city control. I think it put me over the edge because people are always concerned about their safety," Cortez said.

During the campaign, Cortez won the support of several community organizations. He garnered the endorsement of several people who were defeated in the mayoral primary. And, he pulled contributions from the Pomona Fairplex management and two political action committees, including $1,500 from the San Bernardino Public Employee's Assn.

Final campaign contribution reports are not required to be filed with the city clerk's office until early this summer, but Ursua said Tuesday that he had spent about $20,000 and Cortez's treasurer said that campaign had raised roughly $35,000 and had spent well over $20,000.

Ursua said he sought no endorsements but was backed strongly by the Mexican American Political Assn.

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