NORWALK – An already elected official with a background in education. A young gun eager to bring the future to the city. A man with a redemption story, looking to use his experience to influence his community.
These are the three individuals currently vying for the Norwalk City Council seat vacated by former Councilman Marcel Rodarte last year.
It’s been six months since ex-Councilmember Rodarte resigned from his position on the city council in order to assume the position of executive director of The California Contract Cities Association.
The vacated seat remained in a state of limbo for several months while council painstakingly deliberated on how to fill the spot and remedy the situation. It now comes down to a special election to be held in March, and Rodarte’s former position will be one of three spots up for grabs.
The three individuals currently running for the position are Margarita Rios, Alberto Uribe, and Ken Menchaca.
Rios is no stranger to being an elected official. She currently sits on the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School Board on her second term.
“During my term on the school board, I’d always been encouraged to run for city council…but it wasn’t something that I considered because honestly I was never, for one, to look at it as a stepping stone – that was never my intent,” said Rios. “Mine was I was really committed to our students and our school community.”
However, Rios now sees the right opportunity to make even more of an influence, and now turns her attention to the city stage. She is running on a balanced, all-encompassing platform of public safety, education, economic recovery, and infrastructure.
“…I feel that we can’t neglect any part or segment of our city. We have a very diverse city, which is a great thing. In order to impact it as a whole, my plan is to look at the different elements that comprise Norwalk – that make Norwalk what it is,” said Rios.
“Our public safety is critical. Our business is critical. Our economic development; really being able to look at how do we increase the economic opportunities in our city. The infrastructure, looking at the infrastructure, and revitalizing the infrastructure I think is really important…strong schools…it’s great if we have high school grads [because] that means that they’re already ahead. But having college grads, having educated young people and young families will contribute to that economic recovery, and that’s what we need to see.”
Uribe, the youngest candidate at 24 years old, graduated two years ago from University of California, Merced with a degree in management and minor in psychology. He is already familiar with council meetings, having attended them for around two years due to what he sees as an importance to be involved.
“…Norwalk has such a great potential, and it’s just about really communicating that vision to the people and letting them know that we just need to work together to have Norwalk be the best city in this area, in East L.A.,” said Uribe.
He calls his campaign platform “Plan CAL,” which he says represents increasing communication, accountability and leadership.
Uribe says he looks to be creative and innovative with outreach if he is elected.
“I had a professor who really emphasized innovation. She said in the business sector you either innovate or you die, you’re extinct,” said Uribe. “Norwalk has great leaders, it has great staff and they’re doing great things, but we could do more; we could innovate more. We can get more creative, and I believe I can bring that to the council.”
If elected, Uribe looks to increase awareness of resources accessible to the public.
“…If you’re letting them know about the resources, they’re actually being used and they’re not going to waste,” he said.
Norwalk native Menchaca admits that he made poor decisions running with the gang and drug population in his younger days, however has used his experiences to work as a youth intervention counselor since 1980.
He says he grew up “fighting for the neighborhood,” and hopes that a seat on the council will help him continue that same fight in a bigger capacity.
“Now at this point, I see the three open seats in city council, I’m getting ready to retire, I started saying, ‘you know, why not become a councilman?’ I’ve been serving the city all these years,” said Menchaca. “…I’m not a politician…I fight for the young people and their families. I want to continue that, to fight – not just for my neighborhood – but for other neighborhoods. The young people, their families, the elderly. I want to continue to fight with a bigger voice than I’ve ever had before.”
All three candidates responded differently on the subject of what many residents consider to be an increase in violence within the city.
Rios suggested that the current public safety resources should be examined, and that it should be made sure that the resources are utilized in an effective manner. She also hopes to reestablish the relationship between public safety officials and the community through programs such as community policing.
“Bottom line you have to work together,” said Rios.
Menchacca noted that he would want to expand on intervention and prevention programs by hiring and training more individuals to deal with such cases.
He says that City Hall has become out of touch with its community, and there is a need for change.
“I want to be able to bring city hall in touch with our community, because they’re out of touch,” said Menchaca. “They make decisions, but is it for the real need for our community? It sounds good, but you know…there’s a need for change. We have the funds, but they have different ideas. There is a need. Are going to be able to stop gang violence? I would love to, but it’s not going to stop. It’s going to continue. But I believe with education, working with our schools, working with our churches, and working close with our law enforcement…to collaborate with a closer effort, we can make impact, it can change, we can put more of a control on it…”
Uribe, however, expressed the opinion that Norwalk is safer than perceived based on statistics.
“People have a negative perspective about crime in Norwalk,” said Uribe.
“There is crime, but in reality if you look at the statistics –for the size of Norwalk – they’re neck and neck with the smaller cities around Norwalk…if you really think about it, Norwalk is pretty safe…don’t get me wrong, I’m sure things are happening to people at the wrong place at the wrong time, but at the same time I truly believe that Norwalk is really safe. I feel like if we increase that communication of that fact people will feel safer, they’ll be more trusting in the community, and that in turn will have them be more involved and lower crime.”
Uribe did offer the idea for an electronic community crime watch, similar to a program that neighboring La Mirada currently utilizes.
Two of the three candidates – Rios and Uribe –said that they would consider the addition of term limits, however Rios believed that councilmembers should be given enough time to be able to effectively implement their ideas, offering a suggestion for a three term limit.
“Because I already have that experience in governments and experience in being an elected official, I know that the process really to understand your rolls and responsibilities and having time to establish your vision and then really put that into practice…takes time,” said Rios. “Although I do think that term limits can be useful when it comes to new leadership, I also know that having that experience of already serving in that capacity, and pretty much knowing what you’re doing, really also needs to be taken into consideration.”
Menchaca reserved his opinion on the subject for after the election.
The election will be held on March 7. Due to the situation surrounding Rodarte’s former seat, whoever wins this particular spot will be required to run again in two years’ time should they wish to continue serving.