warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Bell Residents Reeling From Sense Of Betrayal Could Turn Out In Droves In Tuesday’s Election

Ebony Bailey, Joshua Woo |
March 4, 2011 | 3:20 p.m. PST

Staff Reporters

The recent salary scandals in the city of Bell have left many residents with a bitter sense of distrust for city government and spurred an increase in voter registration for Tuesday’s election.

Bell now has 10,485 registered voters, an increase of 7 percent since last year. Voter fraud and low turnout have historically dogged elections in the Southeast Los Angeles County city of 36,000 people. In 2009, dead people were registered to vote and in the last special election, in 2005, fewer than 400 people cast ballots. 

Denise Rodarte, a representative from the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, or BASTA, expects a large turnout March 8. She said she’s already seen an increase in community interest since 16,000 residents signed the petition for the recall election.


Click categories for profiles about each group: Four-Year Term | Two-Year Term | Two-Year Term, Pending Recall


“I think people are invested. This is a story that they’ve been hearing in the news for the past six months,” she said. “We’re seeing interest even here in BASTA. People are coming in with their ballots and asking us questions.”     

Interviews with Bell residents in the past several weeks turned up a range of strong views, from those hopeful for change to others who are so disillusioned that they may not vote.

This could pose a problem for candidates running to fill empty seats in the Bell City Council, as some residents have said they won’t vote in the upcoming election because they feel that their vote doesn’t count.

All five City Council seats are up for grabs. The mayor and two council members face recalls and a third resigned from the council torn by felony public corruption charges. Most of the candidates are political novices motivated to run to try to turn around their city.

The ramifications of Bell’s troubles extend beyond the ballot box. The public officials accused of violating the public’s trust face criminal charges. The Attorney General has filed civil charges against the officials and a batch of state legislation aimed at putting tighter controls on local governments throughout California has been proposed in Sacramento. And the state controller’s office released an audit of improprieties uncovered at Bell City Hall.

All of this leaves some Bell residents too alienated to vote. One of those voters is Humberto Garcia, a truck driver who has lived in Bell for 19 years. Garcia says he feels betrayed.

“Everyone feels like that, being stabbed in the back,” he said, adding that he had voted in the last “two or three elections.”  But after the scandals broke, he says he doesn’t believe in city officials doing any good for the city anymore.

 “I hope they hang ‘em,” he said, referring to the four disgraced councilmembers.  “We need people who are earning their income the old-fashioned way.”
Leta, a 50-year-old resident of Bell who refused to give her last name, feels the City Council candidates have not gotten to “know their community,” preferring that the candidates come to her.

“I haven’t seen nobody come up here to the parks or to people’s houses,” she said. “They just leave little things on the mailbox or on the doors.”

 Leta lived in the same house in Bell since she was 16 years old and has voted in previous elections, but after recently losing that home on account of high property taxes, Leta has lost trust in anyone involved with city government.

“We should get to know the candidates before they even get into the city,” she said. “How do we know how these next people coming in are going to be?”

Samuel Martinez, who has voted in every election in which he was eligible, also feels betrayed, adding that government should ideally be a selfless job.

“This is why we can’t get money—the people we elected think first on themselves, not the people,” he said.  “We don’t want promises.  I want to see someone step up and say, ‘I’ll be responsible.’”

 Arturo Garcia, a 26-year-old conveyor worker for Coca-Cola who moved to Bell three months ago, offers an alternative perspective on Bell’s political climate. He feels that the former council members betrayed the city residents and took their hard-earned money, but also argues that residents should still trust the upcoming candidates.

“You have to trust people because if there’s no trust, you can’t really fix anything,” he said.

Rodarte wants to ease the concerns of residents who won’t vote because of reservations they might have with city politics.

 “To really bring change to our city you need to start from the bottom up, and that bottom is to vote.  Their vote is their voice and that is their tool for change,” she said, adding that non-eligible voters should stay informed.  “To change the government and put new honest people there, that’s the first step and you have to make them understand that.”



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.