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Vernon election blends traditional politics with the surreal

The tiny city with a history of corruption scandals is holding its first open, competitive council election in years. But some of its 74 registered voters resent the commotion.

April 06, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times

Both candidates said traditional campaign strategies don't work in Vernon because of the city's unusual makeup and small size. Their outreach efforts have included short, one-page letters distributed to residents and brief chats with neighbors.

Ybarra said he keeps the conversations to less than 10 minutes, and tries not to press the flesh too hard. A soft sell seems to work best.

"People in Vernon like their privacy," said Ybarra, whose father, Thomas, served on the City Council for more than four decades.

Newmire said he's welcomed neighbors into his home over the years for taco nights and barbecues. In his letter, he invited voters to stop by his garage to talk about the city "or just to get to know Dan."

The candidates have been friendly to each other so far. Both say they support the recent reforms and are against a proposed parcel tax. "Ybarra's a nice guy," Newmire said. "I told him I wish we could both serve."

But Newmire said he's angry with the city's investigation, which he believes could intimidate voters. He also said he had been unfairly characterized by the chamber as part of the "old guard" linked to Vernon's past scandals. "Maisano and I have been here 2 1/2 years, how could we be the old guard?" he said.

Another election for a vacant seat on the council is scheduled for the start of June. That race pits Luz Martinez, a former secretary at the Vernon Fire Department, against Reno Bellamy, a friend of Newmire who moved to Vernon in 2010.

Martinez did not respond to a request for comment. But Bellamy, an employee in the city of Corona, said the campaign so far has been an odd experience.

"It's a weird election, because it's so small and every vote is so valuable," he said. "There's a lot of tension in the community, and a lot of rumors are flying around."

One benefit of the small electorate, city officials said, is that the votes can be counted quickly. On Tuesday evening after the polls close, ballots will be certified and counted by hand. The process is expected to take less than an hour.

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