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Hawaiian Gardens Recall Bid Leading in Early Returns

December 18, 1996|JOHN COX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The attempt to recall four Hawaiian Gardens City Council members was leading in early returns Tuesday, amid fears about the integrity of the special election.

The election was widely cast as a political showdown between supporters and opponents of a card club approved by city voters last year.

With two precincts reporting late Tuesday, the attempted recall of Mayor Lupe Cabrera was leading by a 2-to-1 margin, with similar results against his two allies on the council, Robert Canada and Robert Prida. Their political nemesis, Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas, also was losing, but by a slimmer margin.

Accusations of election fraud arose with the arrest Tuesday afternoon of a city worker on suspicion of felony ballot tampering. Casino supporters disputed the charge, saying police had interfered with the election.

Though petitions were first circulated in the spring, Tuesday's recall election had been brewing ever since November 1995, when city voters approved the card club measure by a margin of 57% to 43%.

Opponents of the club refused to admit defeat and immediately took their cause to the courts, where various allegations of conflict of interest have so far stalled the club. They say that they are willing to compromise on a casino proposal, but that the plan submitted to voters was a sweetheart deal for the developer, who already owns a bingo club in town.

The pro-casino council majority, meanwhile, was left without the gambling revenues it had promised, and has drawn criticism for the city's desperate financial condition. Despite mortgaging a city-owned recreation building last summer, the mayor and his supporters on the council have been unable to find enough municipal revenues to guarantee the future of the city's new, $2.5-million-a-year Police Department.

Even if Tuesday's results do restore peace to the council, it is no guarantee that gambling revenues are within reach. Navejas' anti-card club lawsuit is being paid for almost entirely by large casinos outside the city, and could outlast shifts on the council.

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