New mayor Luis Marquez is not short on ambitious goals

DOWNEY - Family looms large in Luis Marquez' world.At his swearing-in as mayor on Dec. 14, with his 4-year-old twins Diego and Maya scurrying about and threatening to disrupt the ceremony, Marquez refused to be distracted as he proudly paid tribute to his parents who were in attendance, for their wise and steady guidance, not to mention their sacrifices, as the main reasons for his rise to the position of mayor of "this great city of Downey." "We had humble beginnings," said the new mayor. "We were raised in the little Mexican town of Villanueva, Zacatecas that borders Jalisco. We had no electricity, no plumbing, no nothing." He was 5 years old when, in search of a better life, the family pulled up roots and emigrated to the U.S. Left with few choices, they settled in an unincorporated area in the Florence-Graham neighborhood in South Central L.A. It was a tough, gang-infested neighborhood, he said, and they had to exercise extra care and caution in avoiding the dangers endemic to such an environment. But survive unscathed they did. Heeding his parents' advice to value education, the importance of community service, and, above all, know right from wrong, Marquez studied hard, took part in sports and school activities, and eventually earned a bachelor's from Cal State Northridge in Chicano studies and film production. "I've always been competitive and from the start I was able to focus, as a way to block out negative thoughts," he said. If he harbored dreams of becoming a James Cameron or a Steven Spielberg, they were short-lived. A meeting not long after graduation with State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, courtesy of Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, proved decisive. He was de la Torre's campaign manager at the time, and when Lowenthal offered him a job in his district office, Marquez took it. It was as senior deputy to Lowenthal that, especially on his wife's suggestion, he thought with his accumulated experience he could render better service if he were to run for the Downey City Council. He said he was also egged on to run by colleagues Kirk Cartozian and Mario Guerra. Marquez, an aide to Lowenthal for close to seven years, said: "He has been my mentor, and I've learned much from him." Married in 2001, the mayor and his wife, Alma, had chosen to reside in Downey because they liked its quality of life features: "it looked safe, it had nice parks and other community amenities, the school district stood out, etc." They had studied conditions in such cities as South Gate, Lynwood, Bellflower and Paramount, communities which fell within Marquez' work orbit anyway as they were in Lowenthal's district. Thus, only 38 years of age, Marquez begins a journey of opportunity and service accorded to only a few. It was hard to determine who was prouder at the installation, the son, his parents Manuel and Maria, or wife Alma: they were all beaming with unadulterated pride. For Marquez, it was clearly a high point in his life, and definitely an unforgettable moment. Announcing his policy directions, Marquez said his overarching goal is to champion the theme 'One Downey' or 'One City.' "It doesn't matter whether one councilmember represents a particular district, and another represents another," he said. "We all belong to one and the same community, and we should try to advance the interests of all." This united image will be promoted through branding. He likes continuing such programs as Taste of Downey, the tree lighting ceremony, and the 4th of July celebration as a means of drawing the community together. He said he will make representations to consolidate the heretofore two districts that have defined Downey in the past into just one Assembly district, dictated by census population figures. He has laid out an ambitious agenda, including espousing the six ongoing initiatives in the public safety, parks, economic/community development, infrastructure, environmental policy and administrative programs/initiatives areas. With regard to public safety, he says he is behind the push for advanced technology and new equipment for the police and fire departments (budget permitting), and, among other things, greater awareness and encouragement of the work performed by Gangs Out of Downey. The new canine 'employee' named Duke, he said, was responsible for a major drug bust in his first week on the job. "I support the aggressive pursuit of grants to enhance our parks," he said. "We do a good job now, but we must do better." He is also on record for creating a new Parks & Recreation Department, peeling it away from the Community Services Department. Acknowledging the praiseworthy progress made by the economic development department, he wants to keep the momentum moving forward. This includes emphasis on a higher level of customer service to better serve the needs of businesses and residents, while remaining alert to the development of more quality businesses. He would like the city to take inventory of all city facilities and infrastructure and begin work on formulating a 50-year master strategic plan to upgrade such aging facilities as the fire stations, streets, the water system and the Civic Center, as well as study potential uses of open city spaces. He recognizes the work performed by the Green Task Force, including adoption of the 'green building standards', and said he will support and encourage such environmental projects as A Day Without a Bag and Earth Day River Clean-up, etc. He's big on fiscal transparency and pension as well as local campaign finance reform (he will advocate a cap on campaign contributions of $2,500 per candidate), and ethical standards (Character Counts reminders). He says he strongly supports the Columbia Memorial Space Center's efforts to affiliate more closely with NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Smithsonian Institute, to benefit Downey's kids while preserving Downey's space legacy. He announced the city's intention to house the shuttle mock-up in a separate building and held up an actual piece of moon rock, to the delight of the audience. He also mentioned that to further the impact of the center, a new website will be established in January. In addition to a public safety dialogue between residents and the police and fire departments in February, the 'Mayor presents' series will feature a mid-year state of the city review in May which will give an overview of the budget, operations and capital projects in the city, an informational program delivered by federal, state and county representatives in August, and an education summit with school district officials in October. He said he intends to re-energize the Downey Sister Cities Association and update Downey's relationships with its sister cities, as well as revive the Mayor's Monthly Service Awards, in recognition of a worthy individual, family, business or organization. As a rallying cry to enhance a sense of community among residents, he offers Kennedy's call, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." He also advocated a more active role for the city councilmembers' wives/spouses, starting with their involvement with True Lasting Connections "which can only need more help." "Believe it or not, I go to the gym," he said, adding, "just not as often as I'd like." In high school, he said he played football (fullback/linebacker), softball, wrestling and some tennis. "Like my parents, I want my kids [Diego is named after the Aztec ruler, Diego Cuauhtemoc; Maya is named for the Mayan civilization] to have a better life," he said. "I wish the same thing for the residents of Downey. If we work together and with a sense of purpose, there's no reason why we can't attain a better life for all of us."

********** Published: December 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 36