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Bell Gardens Recall Effort Launched

Elections: Foes of the city manager, who has been charged with corruption, seek to oust three of her supporters from the council.

July 25, 2001|RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Bell Gardens citizens group has launched a voter recall campaign against council supporters of City Manager Maria Chacon in an effort to permanently wrest power from the embattled official, who faces political corruption charges.

The recall attempt is the first sign of a brewing power struggle in the blue-collar community since Chacon was charged in June with violating conflict-of-interest laws. The effort could ultimately determine whether Chacon's once-formidable support base has crumbled under the weight of the continuing investigation and a flurry of negative publicity.

The recall group is taking aim at the council majority of Salvador Franco, Daniel Crespo and Mayor Ramiro Morales, who were served with recall papers at Monday night's council meeting.

For Morales, it's at least the 12th recall effort mounted again him.

The three councilmen have been criticized for resisting efforts to oust Chacon from her post.

Recall supporters say removing all vestiges of Chacon's influence would help restore stability and public confidence in a city tainted by the corruption investigation.

"The situation is getting worse and worse. It has hit the lowest point, and there is no improvement," said Hugo Escalera, the primary resident behind the recall effort. He said his group is confident that it can gather about 2,500 signatures needed for a recall election to be authorized.

But others doubt that the effort will get off the ground and accuse organizers of using the recall attempt to settle petty personal disputes.

"They're just playing dirty politics because they lost the elections," Morales said.

Recall campaigns are nothing new in the overwhelmingly Latino city of about 45,000 residents. Since the white-majority council was recalled in the early 1990s, there have been dozens of other attempts, most of them ending in failure.

Morales said he and Chacon between them have been the target of at least 20 recall efforts, none of which reached the ballot box. The last successful attempt came in 1999, when a Chacon-led effort ousted three council members.

Despite past failures against Chacon and her allies, recall supporters say things will be different this time, especially since they believe her reputation has been irreparably damaged by the probe.

The recall will finish what prosecutors started and stamp out the corruption and cronyism that have plagued the city since Chacon rose to power in 1994, they say. Morales, Crespo and Franco, they say, symbolize everything that is wrong with the city.

"They represent corruption in our community," said Jennifer Rodriguez, a Chacon critic whose father is a former council member. "It's just time for them to leave."

The council placed Chacon on paid administrative leave after prosecutors alleged last month that, while a councilwoman, she pressured fellow fellow council members to vote for her appointment as city manager.

Chacon was not available for comment.

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