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Card Clubs Dominate Pomona Race : Politics: Six challengers are targeting a controversial vote to approve casinos in seeking to unseat three council incumbents and the mayor.


Hoping to tap into the anti-incumbent mood that swept veteran members of Congress out of office last fall, candidates for the Pomona City Council and mayor's job are busy hammering home the message that new blood is needed to bring Pomona out of its doldrums.

Three council seats and the mayor's post are at stake in a March 7 municipal election that features 10 candidates. Pomona council members are elected by district, not at large.

Looming large over the races is the controversial shadow of card clubs, which the current council has approved. That has angered some Pomona residents, who fear that the clubs will only increase crime and make the city, which is already grappling with severe financial problems, more indebted to special interests. However, campaign disclosure reports show no apparent contributions from casino interests.

"It's certainly dominating and informing the debate," says Alan Heslop, director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, a research center at Claremont McKenna College.

Most of the fireworks so far revolve around two bitter political opponents who are battling it out to represent the 1st District in west-central Pomona.

Trading accusations of fraud, deceit and incompetence are two-term incumbent Nell Soto, a 68-year-old retired public affairs representative for the former Southern California Rapid Transit District, and Bob Jackson, 37, a teacher at Simons Middle School.

Soto, a savvy and well-connected politician whose husband is a former assemblyman, is also a board member of the Southern California Air Quality Management District.

As of Feb. 18, financial disclosure statements show, Soto had raised $30,234, much of it from businesses, unions and trade groups. By contrast Jackson has raised $2,895--the majority of which is a personal loan to his own campaign.

Additionally, Soto has the support of many Latino leaders in Pomona, which according to the 1990 U.S. census has a 51.3% Latino population. Her supporters include Fabian Nunez, a prominent activist who heads La Alianza, an immigrant rights group.

"She's a wise and capable woman, and I think some people just can't accept that a Latina can go out there and raise money," Nunez said.

But Jackson, who is still smarting from his bid to unseat Soto in 1991 that failed by only 59 votes, is hoping that March 7 will be pay-back time.

"I believe very strongly that elections should not be bought and officeholders should not be beholden to special interests. And the only way to do that is not by taking money in the first place," Jackson said.

There is also more recent bad blood between the two. In 1994, Jackson attempted to launch a recall effort against Soto but fell 143 signatures short of obtaining the required 1,440 signatures--or 25% of the registered voters in Soto's council district.

Jackson said that if he is elected he would slash City Council perks. According to city officials, each council member has an allowance of $25,000 per year, which can be used for hotels, air fare, food, postage, community meetings and other council-related expenses. Council members also have the use of a city credit card and cellular phone and are paid $200 per month, while the mayor receives $400.

"As a taxpayer, I have a problem with that," Jackson says.

He supports term limits and opposes card clubs. He favors bringing Pomona's Fire Department back under local control, reversing a contentious City Council decision last year to contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department instead of maintaining its own city force.

Jackson accuses Soto of being indebted to special interests and says she has received money from the firefighters union and various billboard interests, then turned around and voted in support of proposals involving those groups.

Soto concedes that she has accepted campaign donations from many groups but says she votes for what is best for the city, not her campaign contributors.

Jackson "is full of falsehood and innuendo and if it's not one allegation it's another, but he has never come out with a campaign piece that says anything about the issues," Soto said.

For her part, Soto accuses Jackson of misleading voters by distributing a sample ballot and campaign literature that describes him as "council member" Jackson.

"Robert Jackson is clearly deceiving the voters into thinking that he is an incumbent officeholder," Soto supporters wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Soto said she supports card clubs because she believes they will provide an important financial boost to the city. And she said she is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the Navy to convert the vacant General Dynamics plant to peacetime manufacturing.

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