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Hawthorne Mayor's Bounty Is Boon to Community Groups

December 17, 1995|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not uncommon to hear about politicians who use leftover campaign funds for expensive clothes, lavish parties and pricey gifts for themselves and their families.

Hawthorne Mayor Larry Guidi had $43,000 in campaign funds remaining after the Nov. 7 election--he had raised the money early on, and never needed it because no opponents ran. But Guidi has turned his war chest into something of a community chest, doling out money to local nonprofit groups such as the Rotary Club and youth soccer teams.

"If I've got the money to help people, why not help them?" said Guidi, Hawthorne's colorful, outspoken chief executive who began his second two-year term last month.

Nearly three-fourths of the 3,950 residents who cast ballots voted for the lone candidate, a 37-year-old warehouse manager who chastised President Clinton for declining his invitation to visit the city.

Guidi didn't wait for the election to start giving away his campaign funds. He began soon after the Aug. 11 deadline to file for the mayor's race passed without an opposing candidate appearing.

Since then, Guidi estimates, he's authorized checks totaling about $5,000 to various nonprofit groups such as the Hawthorne Rotary Club, Leuzinger and Hawthorne high schools and the Muscular Dystrophy Assn.

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The largest donation, $1,500, went to the Rotary Club to put on its annual 5K/10K fund-raising race through the city. The event draws about 400 participants a year, and proceeds--about $6,500--go for college scholarships to local students and other community service projects such as helping poor families.

Larry Bender, a race organizer, said that in years past, the city had co-sponsored the event and chipped in operating expenses. This year, however, Hawthorne had to end the partnership because of its lingering $10-million budget deficit.

Bender, who runs Hawthorne's cable television system, remembered the City Council meeting in mid-October at which Guidi, a Kiwanis Club member, crossed club lines and vowed to fund the Rotarians' race "out of my own pocket because this event is important to this community." The groups are longtime, albeit good-natured, rivals.

"If the mayor had not done that," Bender recalled, "we would have been forced to find another way to find that money. I thought it was very generous of him."

Other recipients of mayoral largess have been local youth sports teams. Guidi shelled out $750 to outfit at least 36 soccer players with sweatshirts and donated $500 to the baseball and football teams at Hawthorne High.

In an interview from his business office in Carson, Guidi bristled at the notion that he could have followed political convention and donated his war chest to other politicians who share his views.

"I refuse to do that," he snapped. "The people gave the money to Larry Guidi, not to my friends."

He also said city laws prevented him from donating the money to city government. ("Otherwise I'd take some of the big bills and pay them.")

The donations are just another example of the mayor's unorthodox approach to municipal government.

Earlier this year, Guidi raised eyebrows with a series of letters he penned to President Clinton and Gov. Pete Wilson asking, respectively, for the president's financial help for the debt-racked city and Wilson's insight on crime and education issues.

Both men wrote back.

While he sent no money, Clinton wrote Guidi that he was "following the progress" of the city's budgetary woes.

For his part, Wilson turned down an invitation to speak at a Guidi-organized meeting of local city leaders, but the governor offered to send a staff member in his place. A riled Guidi wrote back: "Quite frankly, Mr. Governor, if we wanted a staff person to speak, we would have requested them by name."

Needless to say, Wilson probably won't be getting any of Guidi's war chest.

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