An enthusiastic crowd packed a community center in Bell last night to size up more than a dozen candidates running in the March city elections. All five council seats are open - three as scheduled, and two in a recall.
Some residents were leery and others excited as contenders pitched themselves to voters.
City Council meetings in Bell never looked like this – standing room only, every seat filled, hard to find parking spaces and a keen interest in the goings-on of city government.
One by one, the 17 contenders vying for a seat on the Council took to the microphone after a short video introduction. Health care administrator Nestor Valencia seemed to get the most favorable reaction from the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd.
“Our Bell reputation is ruined," Valencia told the audience. "Today I was at a big meeting down in Orange County and they said we were the most corrupt city west of the Atlantic Coast. I don’t like to hear that. I grew up here.”
Council member hopefuls promised to lead the city out of debt, improve public safety, get ethics training and find the most qualified administrator available to take over Robert Rizzo’s former job as city manager.
Incumbent Lorenzo Velez, the only Council member not facing criminal charges, appeared more confident at last night’s forum than he did on the witness stand at last week’s preliminary hearing. Velez urged residents to re-elect him.
“How can we have a better access to City Hall? And those are issues I want to make sure that we and everyone else here have access to – participating in City Hall.”
As he left last night’s election forum, truck driver and Bell resident Alfredo Vasquez said there’s an important piece of business regarding the six former and current councilmembers facing public corruption charges.
“The judge said the Bell Six cannot be anywhere near City Hall," Vasquez commented. "So I say why don’t you take the pictures down, because it gives bad vibes?"
A judge has scheduled arraignment in two weeks for the six councilmembers. For now, pictures of their smiling faces remain on the walls of the Bell City Hall.
Contenders vying to fill their seats include a student, a teacher, a military officer and a social services worker. Voters go to the polls in two weeks.