DOWNEY – Mario Guerra has been called – both publicly and privately – a bully, a narcissist, a micromanager and a hot head. His vehicle has been smeared with dog feces. He was criticized as the reason Trader Joe’s won’t open in Downey.
He even was blamed for pop music icon Richard Carpenter moving out of the city.
After seven years on the city council, and now a candidate in a heated state Senate race, such attacks, no matter how absurd, come with the territory.
But when Guerra saw the contents of a website that quite literally sprung up overnight – DowneyWatchdog.com – he knew his detractors had gone too far.
The website calls Guerra, who is a Catholic deacon and founder of a Woodland Hills-based insurance brokerage, “corrupt” and a “big-spender millionaire [who] refuses to stop misappropriating and misusing public funds.”
Worse, the website published an altered photo of Guerra dressed in his clergy robe and with his arm draped around the shoulders of a young boy. A black bar covers the boy’s eyes. Superimposed over the photo: “Mario Guerra Refuses to Disclose Why He Was Removed as Deacon”.
The unaltered photo is from 2011 and shows Guerra with his wife and son after a Mother’s Day church service.
“They’re playing off my faith and the obvious implication is that I did a hideous act in an attempt to slander my family,” said Guerra.
Under a tab titled “Damning Documents,” the website produces copies of Guerra’s reimbursement receipts over a six-year period. The website calls it “evidence of Mario Guerra’s corruption and misappropriations of public funds.”
The documents are legit but there is plenty of room for interpretation. Personally, I was an outspoken critic of the city’s extensive travel in 2013, including delegation trips to Denver and Roscommon, Ireland. Sending 21 people to an All America City awards competition seems like gratuitous spending to me.
But there is a distinct difference between “misappropriation of public funds” and disagreeing with a city’s expenditures.
The spending habits of Guerra and other council members is not the core issue, however. The real issue with DowneyWatchdog.com is its slimy use of personal family photos and false innuendos that crossed every line of human decency, even in the deceitful world of politics.
“I was shocked and disappointed when I learned of the website,” said Mayor Fernando Vasquez. “It was a new low in the history of our city’s politics.”
“I hate to even bring it up and give it more exposure than it deserves,” Councilman Roger Brossmer added. “It gives the entire city a black eye.”
So who is behind the website? No one is taking responsibility but according to the city clerk’s office, the documents that appear on DowneyWatchdog.com were recently requested by local resident Patrick Owens. (Requests for public records are themselves public records.)
Owens sits on the city’s Green Task Force -- appointed by Brossmer -- and Public Works Committee -- appointed by Mayor Pro Tem Luis Marquez. Owens did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.
The DowneyWatchdog.com domain was registered Sept. 6 through a proxy server, shielding the registrant’s identity.
The site’s meta tags, however, include references to Tony Mendoza, Guerra’s opponent in November’s election. Meta tags are keywords included on the backend of a website to increase exposure to search engines.
Among the meta tags on DowneyWatchdog.com: “senate 32nd senate,” “tony mendoza” and “tony mendoza senate.”
Sergio Carrillo, a spokesman for Mendoza, said he would provide a statement on his client’s behalf but never did.
Marquez, who is publicly backing Mendoza in the state Senate race, denied involvement in DowneyWatchdog.com.
“I want to be clear. I had nothing to do with the website,” Marquez said in an interview Wednesday. “I absolutely feel there is no place in elections and politics for anyone to attack anyone’s family or religion. There’s no place for it. I completely oppose stuff like that and anyone who does something like that.”
“I found out about the website when everyone else did,” he added.
Marquez also denied he is working for Mendoza.
“I’m a close friend. As a friend I give him advice, but I’m not on his staff,” Marquez said. “I’ve known Tony since we were kids. We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same high school together. For me it’s a no-brainer – I’m supporting Tony.”
The irony of DowneyWatchdog.com is that it is so desperate to smear Guerra, it loses credibility with its over-the-top sensationalism. The website would have been far more effective had it presented the documents without its scandalous and melodramatic tone, and allowed readers to reach their own educated conclusions.
The timing is also suspect, with a critical election just weeks away.
And lest you think this is a defense of Guerra, it’s not. With its exaggerated and irresponsible allegations of corruption, DowneyWatchdog.com is an affront to every Downey citizen who stands for character, honesty and integrity.
As nearby cities such as Bell, South Gate, Pico Rivera and Vernon grapple with scandals and allegations of impropriety, Downey has remained above the fray, due in no small part to engaged residents who hold their representatives accountable for their actions.
Downey citizens are educated on local issues, a fact substantiated by recent election results. It’s one reason the city remains a desirable place to live and raise a family.
DowneyWatchdog.com loses further credibility when it chooses to remain cloaked in the shadows of anonymity.
As a Downey resident, and only as a Downey resident, I am offended.
Published: Sept. 25, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 24