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Ventura County

Latino League Enters Fray With Flynn

Dispute: A forceful letter demands that the Oxnard supervisor cease 'maligning and intimidating' community leaders.

July 03, 2002|CATHERINE SAILLANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Latino civil rights group on Tuesday condemned Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn for allegedly making disparaging comments about the wife of Oxnard's mayor and warned that the veteran politician will face "consequences" if he does not back off.

In a letter hand-delivered to Flynn's office in south Oxnard, leaders of a local chapter of the League of United Latino American Citizens demanded that the supervisor "cease and desist the maligning, intimidating, threatening and harassing of constituents and community leaders."

The letter refers to a well-publicized allegation by Irma Lopez, wife of Oxnard Mayor Manny Lopez, that Flynn shouted, "I'm gonna get you!" at her as she left a Democratic Party picnic June 22.

Flynn denied making the threat and in turn accused Lopez and other Latino community leaders of orchestrating a smear campaign against him in an attempt to oust him from office and fill his seat with a Latino politician.

Flynn told The Times that Lopez "won't be happy until she sees a sea of brown faces in every political office in west Ventura County." He told the Ventura County Star newspaper that she wanted Latino politicians "regardless of their capabilities."

In the letter, local league chapter President Denis O'Leary and state Vice President David M. Rodriguez said the group "will not allow elected representatives to denigrate the leadership of our community without consequence."

O'Leary said the group hasn't decided what it will do should Flynn ignore its offer to meet and resolve the dispute. Options range from withholding political muscle in Flynn's reelection campaign to bringing legal action.

"I really don't want it to go to any extremes," O'Leary said.

"I really want this to be settled immediately and cordially. But as a community, we can't tolerate these verbal attacks."

On Tuesday, Flynn continued to defend his remarks as appropriate and necessary to expose what he sees as an organized attempt to discredit his political reputation.

He noted that O'Leary is a teacher in the Rio Elementary School District. One of Flynn's well-known political enemies is that district's superintendent, Yolanda Benitez, with whom he has argued with for months over use of a school gymnasium he helped get built.

The league's entrance into the fight illustrates a deepening divide between Flynn and an influential faction of Oxnard leaders that includes the city's popular mayor and his politically connected wife.

Although Flynn's 5th District has been predominantly Latino for many years, the veteran supervisor has received solid support from the constituency until recently.

O'Leary acknowledged that Flynn, a liberal Democrat, has ably served his Oxnard district for 26 years.

But the face-off with Lopez, and claims by other Latino leaders that Flynn has berated them publicly as well, has forced the league to take action, he said.

Conspiracy Denied

He denied there is a conspiracy to harm Flynn's reputation, saying he has not talked to his boss, Benitez, since school ended weeks ago.

"I want Flynn to continue to do good work," O'Leary said. "He has at least two years to continue representing us. We need to get beyond these problems."

Despite the current spat, Flynn likely will have little trouble winning reelection in 2004, should he choose to seek an eighth term, one political analyst said.

Although his district is 65% Latino, Latinos turn out to vote in much lower numbers than whites, said Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

And turnout will be low to begin with, because 2004 is an off-year election, he said.

"It will be very difficult to organize enough opposition to push an old warhorse like Flynn out of office," he said.

With his track record supporting farm workers' issues and civil rights, Flynn has won the loyal support of many Latinos.

One of them is John Cobian, president of the Mexican American Political Forum, an Oxnard-based Latino advocacy group. Cobian accused Lopez and others of being "carpetbaggers" trying to grab power with "cheap tactics." Their claims are counterproductive, Cobian said, because they are badly dividing the Latino community.

"I am a Mexican American and, believe me, I would love to have a qualified Hispanic in that position," he said. "But not in this way. This is hitting below the belt."

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