Candidates make final pitches

DOWNEY - Few contrasts emerged during a brief candidates' forum last Thursday where District 4 candidates Lee Ann Sears, Alex Saab and Fernando Vasquez exemplified distinctive backgrounds and unique community service experience, but displayed similar positions regarding city policy.Sponsored by the Downey Chamber of Commerce, the forum granted the nearly two dozen residents in attendance the opportunity to pose questions to the three candidates vying for Mayor Anne Bayer's District 4 seat, as well as to Councilman Mario Guerra, who is running for a second term with no opposition in District 2. Moderated by Steve Hoffman, who sits on the Chamber's Board of Directors, much of the discussion encompassed quality of life issues, the city budget deficit, and each candidate's community involvement. "I'm a product of Downey," said Saab, 35, who also sits on the Chamber's Board of Directors. "As a lifelong resident, I have the benefit of seeing what Downey has been and what it can be if we work together. With my business background I can build a better business culture at City Hall." Similarly, Vasquez, a former development manager with National Core, promoted his business knowledge, insisting that redevelopment is the best tool to spark economic growth in the city. "We need to cut the road blocks and attract those quality businesses to our city," said Vasquez, 30, who also sits on the city's Planning Commission. "I have the vision and the leadership…I know how to get things done." Sears, a community volunteer and trainer at a local women's gym, agreed with several of the positions held by her opponents, but touted her long history of involvement in the community. "I've lived here for 35 years," said Sears, 54, who was appointed by Bayer to serve on both the Emergency Preparedness and Recreation and Community Services Commissions. "I've held different positions in the city where I made major decisions that affected our community. I want to keep our city safe and bring more businesses here to see our community grow." Though most questions were geared towards the District 4 candidates, Guerra, in a brief opening statement, pledged to continue his work on the Council during his second term. "It's been an honor to serve you on the City Council. I am proud to represent Downey," Guerra said. "I believe character counts, I believe in ethics…I'm proud that the issues in other cities don't occur here - we need to keep it that way." When asked how the city's budget could be balanced without depleting the city's reserves, each candidate offered conservative answers ranging from spending cuts to revenue increases through sales taxes. "We've got to make tough decisions," said Saab. "Times are tough - we need to trim as much fat as we can right now." While Sears suggested that the city might have to cut funds for certain organizations, Vasquez assured citizens that additional tax revenue was the answer. "It's simple, increase revenue, expand redevelopment areas on the Firestone Boulevard corridor, at the Downey Landing site," said Vasquez. "Get rid of the waste…don't spend more than you bring in." When the topic of the city's youth was brought up, Vasquez proposed the city create a Downey youth commission to serve as an advisory to the City Council on issues relating to teenagers. Saab suggested that in the future, all decisions made by the Council should keep the youth in mind while Sears shared the discontent she has heard from residents who feel there are few activities for youth in the city. "I've worked with a lot of kids and the main complaint is that there's nothing to do," she said. "People tell me they take their kids to Santa Fe Springs because it's more kid-friendly." Guerra acknowledged the problem and ensured those in attendance that in addition to the Columbia Memorial Space Center and upcoming programs at the Downey Theatre, the city is working on more activities for the city's youth. In closing, Vasquez issued three main goals that he plans to initiate if elected. "We need to expand our public safety, be tough on gangs and illegal street vendors, and promote economic development," he said. "We must be progressive and fiscally responsible - I can get it done." Similarly, Sears promised to maintain Downey's quality of life if elected, making the city a good place for future generations to live. "Downey is a full-service city and I want to keep it that way," she said. Saab said he is running because of issues he sees in the city that he believes he can solve. "We need to rebuild the confidence of residents in their local leaders," said Saab. "We must also continue vigilance against crime, support out small business community, and expand programs for youth and seniors. My business is here, my family is here…I have too much at stake to not do what's right."

********** Published: October 28, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 28