Mayor Ali Saleh, left, is shown in April at the first meeting of the Bell City… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
The rookie mayor of Bell, swept into office as a reformer in the midst of the city's massive corruption scandal, has taken out papers to run for Assembly in southeast Los Angeles County.
Ali Saleh, a clothing shop owner with little experience in politics, became one of the faces of community discontent in Bell after The Times revealed that city leaders were paying themselves enormous salaries, taking generous benefits and loaning the town's money to City Hall colleagues.
Saleh, however, said he would not make a decision whether to enter the 63rd District primary until February. He said several people had encouraged him to run, so he set up a campaign committee to accept donations. He said he has received "a few thousand dollars."
"I'm torn between running for Assembly or staying with Bell, but I can do more for city of Bell as an assemblyman than being on the council," said Saleh, a Democrat.
With redistricting, the 63rd District that includes Bell will have no incumbent. Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who currently represents Bell, is running for state Senate.
Still, Saleh could face a difficult road if he decides to jump into the race. Those who already have filed papers indicating their interest include Paramount Councilwoman Diane Martinez, who has twice lost primary races for Assembly, Lynwood Councilwoman Maria T. Santillan-Beas and Anthony Rendon, executive director of an early childhood education nonprofit, who has racked up an impressive list of endorsements as well as about $185,000 in campaign funds.
Saleh attacked Rendon as having recently moved into the area as part of a deal with political bosses who he contends are pulling the strings on where candidates should run.
"There should be somebody from the district or at least somebody who has lived there a few years," said Saleh, who for years has lived in a Lebanese enclave in Bell.
Rendon said that redistricting has changed the boundaries of all the districts and that for the last 20 years he has worked in nonprofit agencies that have served southeast L.A. County.
When the Bell scandal broke in the summer of 2010, Saleh became a founding member of BASTA, which led the opposition to the city's tainted public officials, eight of whom, led by former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo, face corruption charges.
Saleh was the highest vote getter when he was elected to Bell's City Council in March as the old council was swept from office. His fellow council members elected him mayor.
Things had changed dramatically for Saleh since his previous run for council, when he received just 375 votes, finishing fifth out of six candidates.
Political consultant Leo Briones, who is close to Saleh, said he needs to raise $200,000 to $350,000. "His message would be kind of like, we cleaned up Bell, it's time to clean up Sacramento," Briones said.
Vice Mayor Danny Harber said he thought there could be some disgruntled voters in the city if Saleh ran for higher office so soon.
"If he wins, we lose him, but I think he could do more for the city of Bell" in Sacramento "than he could do here," Harber said.