Political leaders fail to engage in 'forum'

DOWNEY - The second in the "Mayor Presents" series held last Thursday at City Hall drew a near-capacity crowd comprising a good cross-section of Downey residents eager to hear what their representatives in the U.S. Congress and in both houses of the state assembly had to say, and if this was all that was allowed by the format and its time constraints, the so-called forum originated and sponsored by Mayor Luis Marquez may be deemed a success.But forum it wasn't, because nobody from the adult audience was able to ask any questions, there was no discussion, there was nary a peep of dissent from the floor. In other words, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, state senator Alan Lowenthal, and new state assemblyman Ricardo Lara, for all their good intentions, had a clear, static-free, one-way path to their hearers' ears. Oh, right before the meeting ended three questions from among the 23-odd kids representing Gauldin Elementary, East Middle School and Downey High School managed to be lobbed to Marquez, who was acting as emcee, but by this time people had started to fidget in their seats. The questions concerned cuts to educational programs and the widespread layoffs of teachers, and why teaching is one of the least appreciated of the professions. Came this explanation from Roybal-Allard: "It's a major issue right now, and these things are being discussed. Budget deficits have a lot to do with the situation. But rest assured, there's a huge effort to protect the education of our children." In the same vein, Lara offered this comment: "While budgets are being slashed, we still need to prepare our kids for a global economy. We need educated workers." While mentioning the need to balance the state budget, and the difficulties proceeding from such factors as the drop in home values, and so on, Lowenthal also trumpeted the importance of education: "A well-educated workforce leads to jobs." In opening the session, Marquez said it was not often that all three Downey legislative representatives could gather together in one setting. Then he briefly crowed about the encouraging developments in downtown Downey - Buffalo Wild Wings' recent opening, La Barca's imminent opening, the Downey Gateway aborning, etc. After introductions, Roybal-Allard spoke first. She offered how special it was for her to represent such a resurgent city as Downey, how it's being widely acknowledged as a model city. Then she outlined her office's services, which include: case work on any conceivable federal issue or problem, available to every constituent in her district (her two full-time case workers, who come to Downey every second Tuesday of the month, can be instrumental, she said, in cutting bureaucratic red tape); help with immigration/citizenship matters; problems with the post office; grants notification program; financial workshop (s) for college-bound students; an internship program; annual U.S. armed forces academy workshop; annual artwork competition; tourist guide service while visiting Washington, D.C.; job referrals through the local chamber of commerce; co-hosting "forums" such as this one; and information on grants. "I welcome your opinions," she said. "You can twitter me, or reach me via Facebook. I'd like to learn your concerns, so you can help me and others become better representatives." Lowenthal, speaking next, enjoined everyone to feel free to contact his office in Sacramento and his local office here (manned by aide Irantzu Pujadas, who specializes in young women's empowerment issues, along with, on the odd day, Marquez himself), from September to December. He said his office's constituent services cover DMV and insurance issues, landlord-tenant disputes, unemployment matters, questions about the legislative process, analysis of state bills or their aspects, resources 'for our schools', assistance with technical associations (if you need more background, if you need to work with local and even federal levels), or inquiries about outreach programs. "If you have an event planned, and you need my presence, and assuming I'm available, contact Irantzu or our Sacramento office. But let me hear from you, again via Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and together we can address your concerns." The relative newcomer Lara said, "It's really an honor to represent you, especially the working families here in Downey. We work in collaboration with Congresswoman Roybal-Allard and state senator Lowenthal on any number of constituent issues, like a mobile health facility to serve the community, issues with AARP, ensuring that children are enabled to go to college. We can also, for example, assist you with DMV and insurance matters. We have local offices here." Marquez also reminded those present that city hall stands ready to "assist you with information on water rates and how to pay your bill, with securing building permits, with information on street repairs, and so on." For his part, after thanking the three legislators for their "assistance and attention," Councilman Mario Guerra bewailed the apparent lack of transparency regarding assembly budgets and assembly staff salaries (Lowenthal: "I support transparency"), and asked the assembly to monitor and investigate possible irregularities in the operations of the Central Water Basin and the Water Replenishment Board.

********** Published: August 18, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 18