On Saturday, Jan. 27, nine candidates for the Whittier City Council met for a forum at Whittier’s Parnell Park Community and Senior Center — a squat building that sits next to the Parnell Park petting zoo. The candidates are running in Whittier’s upcoming local election on April 10, which will determine four district representatives for city council, as well as Whittier’s mayor.
Whittier College resides in District 2, meaning that Whittier College students who live at the College can vote for a District 2 candidate, as well as a mayoral candidate. District 2 candidates Eric Leckey, Vincent McLeod IV, Henry Bouchot, Dr. Irella Perez, and incumbent councilman Bob Henderson attended the forum, as did Lizette Escobedo, candidate for District 4. Her opposing candidate, incumbent Fernando Dutra, was unable to attend the event due to a pre-planned family event in Washington. Mayoral candidates Rolando Cano, Raquel MacLeod, wife of District 2 candidate Vincent McLeod IV — and L. Leon Savage attended as well. Incumbent mayoral candidate Joe Vinatieri was unable to attend.
The candidates took questions from the audience about crime in Whittier, fiscal responsibility, leadership, and the challenges of solving homelessness in Whittier. While candidates provided a variety of answers, some common themes arose. Savage and Leckey took anti-governmental stances respectively.
Savage spoke repeatedly on his belief in the power of petition. “We have the right as American citizens to take that pen, put it to a petition and [elected officials] have to listen,” said Savage.
During the forum, Savage stated that he has worked as a naval intelligence officer. According to the Whittier Daily News, Savage is a certified accounting bookkeeper who ran as a write-in candidate for mayor in 2016, losing to Vinatieri. He ran on a promise to protect Whittier from sex offenders, a platform he has pushed forward in this campaign as well.
Leckey, a Fullerton College graduate and Western Region Sales Manager of LCF Wines, wears his libertarian values on his sleeve. Quoting Ronald Reagan, he said, “The nine most dangerous words in America are: ‘I’m here from the government, and I’m here to help.’” “I am the business-first candidate,” said Leckey.
Like Leckey, mayoral candidate Cano is running on a platform that supports local business. “I will lay the foundation for a better future. I will invest in our community businesses that have not received their fair share,” said Cano. “Local business people struggle here, and I think there can be a more even playing field so that they can compete against corporate businesses that exist in Whittier.”
Cano ran for a position on the Whittier City District School board last year. He also spoke about improving governmental transparency, should he be elected. “I feel that in order to improve our situation, we have to have that wall that divides the city representatives from the community, that needs to come down, and we really need to start working together,” said Cano.
“[The] government is accountable to us, not to political elites, developers, or oil companies. We must begin operating with full transparency,” said District 2 candidate Bouchot. Bouchot is a military veteran, having served as a Marine Captain in Afghanistan. He also has experience working as a prosecutor. Bouchot attended Whittier’s ASWC senate meeting this Monday.
“I pledge to give a new sense of vitality to Whittier’s economic development,” said Bouchot. “focusing on reducing commutes, vitalizing uptown and planning for the future instead of always looking to the past.”
“It’s time, Whittier, we need a change,” said District 2 candidate Perez. “I think the city council has been reactive rather than being proactive . . . we want to be active rather than reactive.”
Perez got her Doctor of Education from the University of Southern California. She has served on the Whittier City School District Board of Education and worked as Superintendent for the El Monte Union High School District from March of 2015 until August of 2016, when her contract was terminated. She told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that she was let go as a form of “political retaliation . . . The politics changed, and three months after, I was placed on administrative leave for no reason and with no cause.”
Perez also promised to focus on affordable housing over high-rise apartments.
“My vision for Whittier is protecting the single family homes, creating affordable housing that is quality housing,” said Perez. “I will review the Whittier Boulevard Uptown plan, and there will be no more motels. There will be no more big, huge, tremendous, monstrous apartments.”
As the incumbent candidate, District 2 candidate Henderson had to take a different approach from that of Perez or Bouchot. He had to defend the work of Whittier’s City Council in the recent past. He argued that expanding the police force is no simple effort.
“Police officers are very expensive, [for] those of you that don’t know. They cost you about $200,000 a police officer,” said Henderson. “[You can’t] just go out and say, ‘let’s put ten more people on the street,’ because we also have to worry about balancing [the budget].”
Henderson studied business at the University of Southern California, and served as mayor from 1992-1994, from 2009-2010, and from 2013-2014.
“I want to increase our police force,” said mayoral candidate McLeod, “but . . . we can’t just say we want something. We have to figure out how we’re gonna budget for it.”
McLeod is a military veteran, a business woman, and a mother of three. She is also a Whittier alumnus. Like Leckey and Cano, she believes that Whittier’s economy can be supported by Whittier supporting local businesses.
“We need to support those businesses in our area,” said McLeod. “We need to spend the money, but we also need to make the money . . . I know you have to make money to spend money.”
Mayoral candidate McLeod’s husband, District 2 candidate Vincent McLeod IV, is running with a different plan for Whittier. He is a Whittier alumus who believes the College could do more to integrate itself with the larger city.
“First thing, I wanna see a little bit more cohesion with [Whittier College and] the city,” he said. “We are a college town, whether we see it or not.”
McLeod works as a teacher in Compton, where he teaches seniors government and economics. Prior to this, he worked in counterterrorism and business intelligence. He wants to combat gang activity in Whittier.
“I believe you [stop gang activity by strengthening] your gang enforcement safety zone. It has to be expanded,” said McLeod.
“How many of you would agree that we are living in a scary time in the world right now?” said District 4 candidate Lizette Escobedo. “Raise your hand. This is exactly why I’m running.”
Escobera graduated from the University of California San Diego. She works as a delegate for the California Democratic Party. She spoke about bringing her experiences working in and with government to Whittier.
“I did grant writing. I worked on relationships with local government, state government, federal government,” said Escobedo. “and that’s what I want to focus on for Whittier. I want to bring innovative funding to Whittier.”
Local elections provide a way for locals to influence politics on a small scale. And enough small-scale influence can lead to a large-scale change.