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Editorial

Richard Alarcon's residency questions

The councilman and his wife are charged with voter fraud and perjury amid questions about where they actually live.

August 06, 2010

Maybe it's finally time for Richard Alarcon to go home, if only he could figure out where that is. On Nordhoff, in Panorama City, where he's registered to vote and which lies within the district he was elected to represent? Or on Sheldon in Sun Valley, outside the district, in another home owned by his wife?

Alarcon and his wife, Flora Montes de Oca, were indicted Thursday on charges of perjury and voter fraud after allegedly lying about their true residence. If the charges are true, Alarcon took office in a district in which he was ineligible to serve. The two have pleaded not guilty.

If the councilman is convicted he should, at least, be booted from office. The law requires elected officials to live in the districts they represent, and it's not just a technicality. At the core of our democratic system of government is the understanding that citizens in every neighborhood have the right and the wisdom to select their governmental representatives from among themselves. For a candidate to foist himself on voters as being one of them, when in fact he is not, is an abuse of trust.

It also ought to be considered a form of theft. The 7th Council District, in the north-central part of the San Fernando Valley, is heavily populated with recent immigrants, legal and otherwise, who are ineligible to vote, and the argument is often made that such districts have few qualified people who are prepared to run for office and serve. But candidates who otherwise might be willing to risk the costs and rigors of a campaign are less likely to do so when faced with a formidable opponent such as Alarcon, who comes armed with steady labor backing and a ready team of highly paid campaign professionals. It would be worse than unfair if the Alarcons of the world were allowed to further stack the decks in their favor by ignoring residency laws that apply to everyone else.

It's worth noting that Alarcon easily trounced his opponents when he returned to the council in 2007, and it's just as noteworthy that he ran only weeks after he had taken office in the Assembly — an office he won without opposition. Even if no criminal liability is found, Alarcon's rather loose attachment to any particular office, much like his unclear connection with any particular residence, is troubling. Like various recent political scandals such as the one unfolding in Bell — in which elected officials drew obscene salaries without the knowledge of their constituents — it makes it all too easy to wonder whether our system is slowly being transformed from one in which knowledgeable voters select their representatives to one in which politicians use voters as a means to some other end.

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