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Wilson Urged to Name Minority to Board


SANTA ANA — With Orange County's first-ever Latino on the Board of Supervisors about to step down, local community leaders Tuesday called on Gov. Pete Wilson to find another minority voice for the board.

The departure of Gaddi H. Vasquez, who rose through the county's ranks from a police officer to chairman of the powerful five-member board, will leave a noticeable void that Wilson should consider, several community leaders said.

Vasquez has been frequently criticized, even by Latinos, as too moderate and too quiet on important minority issues. But he nonetheless represented a sense of pride and hope to the community in a county that is now more than one-fourth Latino, local leaders said.

"Any time you lose someone who is not only the highest-ranking Latino in Orange County, but also perhaps the highest-ranking Latino in California, it's a tremendous loss," said John Palacio of Santa Ana, a spokesman for the Mexican-American Legal, Defense and Education Fund. "Gaddi Vasquez provided a moderate and articulate voice in the county, a voice that opened doors for the Latino community that now stands to be closed again."

Citing the strain caused by the county's unprecedented bankruptcy, Vasquez, 40, announced this week that he will leave office Sept. 22, 15 months before his third full term was to expire. The announcement leaves it to Wilson to appoint a replacement to finish Vasquez's term and help guide the county through a critical time.

The list of county leaders mentioned as potential replacements includes many prominent citizens, elected officials and financial experts, but few members of ethnic minority groups and few women.

Paula Werner, an Irvine councilwoman and member of Women For:, a women's political group active in Los Angeles and Orange counties, said that despite the need for financial expertise, an increasingly diverse county desperately needs more ethnic and gender representation.

"I think it would be smart for Wilson to recognize the changing demographics and look to appointing an ethnic minority to that position," said Werner.

Because of Wilson's recent national stance decrying affirmative action policies, several local leaders expressed little optimism their advice would be heeded by Wilson.

Randy Jordan of Mission Viejo, the publisher of the Black Orange, a magazine aimed at serving the black community, said the board needs a minority leader who is "sensitive to his own group and supported and backed by his own group."

"Any part of government needs to reflect its constituents and reflect the people being governed," Jordan said. "Unfortunately, I doubt very seriously this will be on Wilson's mind."

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