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4 challengers take on Cardenas on crime, city services

February 26, 2007|Ashley Surdin | Times Staff Writer

Concerns about prostitution, gangs and city services in the east San Fernando Valley have drawn an eclectic cast of candidates into the 6th Council District race.

They are a city engineer, an electrical contractor, a probation officer and the father of a former gang member. They all face an uphill battle in the March 6 election against incumbent Tony Cardenas, a former state assemblyman with a $230,000-plus campaign chest.

No one comes close to Cardenas' campaign treasury, according to finance reports on file at City Hall. James Cordaro, who has raised $15,000, and Lisa Martellaro-Palmer, who has collected $6,000, will both receive matching public funds. Eric Dwight Rothenay has raised about $1,500; Candido J. Marez has raised no money.

But the four contenders aren't discouraged by their long odds. Although Cardenas may be campaigning hard, they say he has done little for the district's communities: Van Nuys, Arleta, Sun Valley and portions of Pacoima, Panorama City and North Hollywood.

"Show and go -- that's Tony," said Cordaro, 50. "He's an empty suit, a lot of empty promises."

Cardenas, 43, dismisses the monikers and the challengers' claims that he is lax on the job. "I've had dozens of coffees in people's backyards," he said. More than 5,500 tons of trash and bulky items have been removed from the district's streets, he said, and 150 prostitution-related arrests were made during the last year and a half.

Cordaro, an electrical contractor, thinks he can do better. His three-pronged plan calls for creating a trade school to steer young people away from gangs, fashioning a government-outreach program similar to community policing, and requiring spaying and neutering of pets rather than putting unwanted animals to death.

Cordaro, Marez and Martellaro-Palmer serve on the elected Van Nuys Neighborhood Council.

Marez, 53, an industrial equipment supplier and community activist, says his campaign is inspired by his eldest son, a former gang member now serving time in prison. To reduce violence, Marez said, he would work with families, community programs and nonprofits, including those he has worked closely with -- the Knights of Columbus and Van Nuys Community Court.

Martellaro-Palmer, 40, an engineer for the city's Transportation Department, said she would solve the district's problems through community interaction -- neighborhood watch programs and town hall meetings.

Martellaro-Palmer has not been reluctant to take on her opponents. Last month, she accused Marez of not living in the district. (Marez responded that he lives in a motor home parked in the district.) She also implied that Cardenas copied her campaign flier.

"In my very first brochure, I'm on the grass with my chocolate Lab. And then, when Tony starts sending out mailers, he has his dog between him and his wife," she said, laughing. "It was too coincidental."

Cardenas laughed too. "No, Cocoa has been a member of the family since she was 6 to 8 weeks old," he said. "We would have had the dog and the cat together, but they chase each other too much."

Rothenay, 35, of Arleta is the youngest candidate. The deputy probation officer for L.A. County wants to clean up the streets and make them safe. To do that, he would ensure that residents receive the basic services they are already paying for -- sidewalk repairs, debris cleanup, tree trimming -- and increase police bike patrols to deter gangs.

He acknowledged he has "no political experience whatsoever," but sees that as an advantage.

"I haven't been tainted."

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ashley.surdin@latimes.com

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