Friday, November 8, 2013

Overthrowing A Municipal Regime - From the Boxers to the Police

 Bastille in Demolition July 1789

At 11:00 pm, on November 4, 2013, at the Marriott Hotel in Baldwin Park, the computer screen refreshed with the updates of the local elections.  At seeing the concrete results, the crowds roared and cheered with joy.  The challenger Cruz Baca won the swing-vote council seat.  Control for the seat was the most bitter, most expensive, and fiercest political battle in the city's history.

For the first time in Baldwin Park's election party, the crowd wasn't limited to friends, family, and the political sponsors of the candidates. Also, celebrating their efforts were a number of police officers, small business owners, and the city's boxing club.  Baca's victory ushered in a new age and has ended the fourteen year reign of Mayor Lozano and Council Member Marlen Garcia.

Currently, the City Council has five seats.  For fourteen years, the Lozano-Garcia bloc controlled the three dominating votes, chilling the minority voice.  Garcia decided not to run for her seat again.  Instead, the majority bloc attempted to place in their candidate Natalie Ybarra; while, the minority one ran Cruz Baca.

The story of the changing of the guards on the surface may appear to be a limited and localized one.  But, really, the epic battle proved that the ordinary citizen could and did take back their City from a regime.  The feat, originally, appeared impossible.

In their fourteen years in power, Lozano and Garcia curried favor with extensive political networks and sponsorships and had the powerful backing of players like Kaiser Permanente, the regional politicians, and California State Senators like Edward Hernandez.  Therefore, the loss of the council seat came as a shock to Mayor Lozano, Mayor Pro Tem Raquel Garcia, and the management team.

The tensions have been building between the citizens and employees of Baldwin Park and the public officials and their administrators.  Employees complained against the excesses the administrators were deciding for themselves, which came at the expense of withholding pay raises against the majority of employees.  Furthermore, administrators promoted staff on the basis of nepotism and cronyism instead of merit and qualifications.  Sports and community programs were cut, while unnecessary parking structures were built at the cost of $8.4 million dollars.

A number of reporters couldn't believe the public officials' insensitivity towards its own citizens.  Their irritability against citizens and employees showed in Garcia and Lozano's decorum and disrespectful behavior at council meetings.  Marlen Garcia has told her citizens on one occasion that they could go back home to Tijuana, if they didn't like how she ran the city.

Mayor Lozano shutdown public comments period when the boxers were going to announce their lawsuit against the City.  Chilling the limited public forum was illegal pursuant to the Constitution, the California Constitution, California Brown Act, and Baldwin Park's own municipal code.  He's also labeled those who criticize him a fabricator.  Garcia and Lozano have also sent code and law enforcement to bully and intimidate any residents who publicly spoke out against them.

The political battle, however, took a great turn when Council Member Garcia and Mayor Lozano blamed all of the city's problems on the allegedly expensive Baldwin Park Police Department.  In an attempt to get rid of them, Council Member Marlen Garcia, Council Member Raquel Garcia, Mayor Lozano, City Manager Vijay Singhal, and City Attorney Joseph Pannone, planned to fire all the police, give the chief a severance pay, and bring in the sheriffs.  In response, the Police Association banded together and aggressively campaigned for the challenger, Cruz Baca.

Baca earned another supporter, when Marlen called a press conference to falsely accuse State Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of punching his ex-girlfriend.  Apparently, he was also a drug addict.  Without having any of evidence of these allegations, she demanded his resignation.  But after having his reputation cleared, Hernandez enthusiastically joined the battle to rid the City of the Lozano-Garcia faction.

Finally, Marlen Garcia on record opposed the thirty four year old boxing club and refused to save it from closing its doors.  She stated, "Boxing's just entertainment anyways."

The criticism galvanized the Head Boxing Coach, Julian Casas, and one of his boxers - Paul Cook - who is also an attorney at law.  Together, they organized the teenage boxers, protested, sued, and exposed the City and its corruption.

Yet, even with the uprising of community groups, catalyzing change in local politics seemed impossible because politicians like the Mayor appear to be immune to accountability.  Twice, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office attempted to press charges against Manuel Lozano.  The first time was for electioneering fraud.  The second time was for accepting kickbacks to go to China.  Twice, the charges were dropped.

Thus, in response to these concerns, the Baca-Rubio team had citizens posted at every ballot booth to monitor any unethical behavior.  Regarding the vote by mail fraud, Cook and Police President Jason Adams visited care facility homes to deliver notice that they were being monitored for it.

The community effort worked.  Out of the three councillor candidates, Baca finished with the most votes.  Baca, a music producer, had lost twice in the past

When asked what kept her going she said, "What helped me persevere was the advice my father gave me.  Never give up.  Never.  Never.  Never.  I remember he told me that when I was five years old and I lost my music contest.  That advice has never failed me.  And his words spoke to me when I lost the election last time."  She said the advice fueled her to win two Grammys and a nomination for an academy award for the movie Flashdance (1983).

Following the election victory, the council chamber was full.  Cook, representing the boxers, kicked off the victory speeches.  He stated, "Today, we come in peace because it is a victorious day.  But the War on Corruption will continue."  To that, the crowds cheered.

Greg Tuttle, representative of the small business owners, followed and stated, "I know now I can finally retire with the new council seat filled.  The City can finally be cleaned up."

Jason Adams announced, "If we didn't win, you [Lozano and the Garcias] would be talking about outsourcing the police today.  I'm here to tell you, 'We're here to stay.'  And we will not forget what you tried to do to us, Mayor Lozano."

Ricardo Pacheco, a Council Member who sat in the minority position at council said, "It's a change.  A new leadership.  A new vision."

During the entire Council meeting, Marlen Garcia and Chief Lili Hadsell hid their faces behind their computer monitors.  Both Mayor Lozano and Council Member Marlen Garcia refused an interview.  Susan Rubio couldn't be reached for one.

To echo the spirit of Baca's father, the citizens of Baldwin Park learned an important lesson regarding democracy.  As Churchill stated, "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

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