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Registrar Certifies South Gate Recall Petitions

Election could be set for Jan. 28. Action has been tied up in courts as leaders mounted legal challenges.

October 16, 2002|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

The county registrar-recorder's office has certified recall petitions in South Gate, setting the stage for a possible January election in which voters will be asked if they want to oust four of their controversial leaders.

Conny McCormack, the registrar-recorder, said that recall petitions containing more than 8,000 signatures were certified last week, and that she will request a Jan. 28 election.

The Board of Supervisors must give authorization, but McCormack said she does not expect opposition.

The recall drive, which began last year, has been stalled for months as the targeted leaders raised legal challenges and made moves that triggered unprecedented intervention from state officials.

Secretary of State Bill Jones, who pushed legislation that took electoral control out of the city's hands, applauded the registrar's rapid certification process.

"The voters of South Gate confront some of the most serious allegations of official misconduct and voter intimidation I have ever seen," Jones said in a statement. "I'm committed to making certain that the people of South Gate can freely, fully and without intimidation or corruption, exercise their right for recall."

The recall proponents are trying to oust the city's perceived political boss, Treasurer Albert Robles, and his City Council allies: Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, Vice Mayor Raul Moriel and Councilwoman Maria Benavides.

Proponents accuse the officials of corruption, charges that the leaders deny. Ruvalcaba, in a prepared statement, said: "I am confident that the residents of South Gate will affirm their support for our leadership."

In a city in which campaigns have been marred by electoral fraud and viciously false campaign mailers, the recall will probably spark another round of political mayhem.

Critics of Robles and his allies say they will be watching for a Tammany Hall-style mobilization of city resources that they fear will be used to oppose the recall.

In the past year, Robles' council allies have created a community outreach department staffed with dozens of workers.

Though city officials say the employees go door-to-door asking residents about community needs, critics suspect the employees will be politicking.

"I think the Tammany Hall component will be rolled out with a vengeance," said Councilman Hector De La Torre. "The community service officers are already stepping up their presence in the neighborhoods."

It remains to be seen how many candidates will seek to challenge the targeted officials. Citizens wanting to run for office have until Nov. 15 to file.

The prospect of a general election in March heightens the political intrigue. Since the terms of Ruvalcaba and Benavides end in March, any winner of the January recall election for their seats will face another election two months later.

The recall was tied up in the courts for much of the year after city officials declared the petitions invalid.

A judge later ruled that the petitions were valid, and an appeals court upheld the decision. But the city has continued to fight the recall. Last week, the state Supreme Court refused to hear another appeal.

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