Cole has his detractors. Some opponents call him a wannabe political boss who uses his long service on the council, in addition to the Oldtimers Foundation, to bully foes. But even those critics, many of whom declined to speak on the record, say Cole is popular.
"We liked this gordito because he did a lot of good things," said Lynwood community activist Adolph Lopez, using an affectionate Spanish word for a chubby man. "He's not perfect, he's not a saint, but he's on our side."
"Living here, sometimes I have to be sensitive to the fact that I'm white," Cole said. "When I meet someone for the first time, if I greet them in Spanish, sometimes they get angry at me. They say, 'I speak English!' "
But Cole said he feels less comfortable when he's away from home. "When I'm in a restaurant out in Rancho Cucamonga and everyone around me is white," he said, "then I feel different. It feels funny."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Cities in transition
Latinos were a minority in southeast L.A. County cities when Bell Councilman George Cole moved into the area in the early 1970s.
*--* 1970 1970 % of 2006 2006 % City Population Spanish origin* Population Latino Bell 21,984 22.3 38,242 91.8% Bell Gardens 29,311 21.7 45,968 94.3 Huntington Park 33,758 35.9 63,730 96.2 Maywood 16,990 34.9 29,141 96.9 South Gate 57,008 17.3 101,157 93.8
*People with Spanish surnames or whose first language is Spanish
Sources: Census Bureau, 1970 census; Claritas, 2006 estimates.
Graphics reporting by Scott Wilson