NORWALK — Women continue to lead the City Council as Vice Mayor Margarita Rios was selected by colleagues April 2 to replace Mayor Jennifer Perez.
Rios, a former member of the Norwalk-La Mirada school board, also serves as a sergeant in the district’s police department and was elected to the council in March 2017.
Longtime councilman Luigi Vernola was elected vice mayor. He was first elected to the City Council in 1987 and has been mayor four times and vice mayor three times. He owns and operates an auto service and towing business.
Perez nominated Rios while Councilman Tony Ayala, also elected in 2017 and the only council member who has not held a leadership post, nominated Vernola. Both votes were unanimous, 5-0.
“It is an honor and very humbling to be elected mayor,” said Rios, who pledged to continue the economic and community programs such as Town Hall meetings, of the council under Perez.
“I am hopeful that the best days are ahead of us. I will continue and expand community participation programs, continue our strong partnership with businesses, schools and the Sheriff’s Department,” Rios said.
She added that her priorities will be infrastructure improvements, neighborhood cleanups and upgrading parks, while continuing the city’s economic development plan to bring more stores into the community.
A Norwalk resident since 1989, Rios was raised by a single mother, Juanita Verduzco, whom she honored along with her husband and other family members.
She attended Edmondson Elementary and Waite Middle School and earned an associates degree from Cerritos College before transferring to Cal State Long Beach, where she graduated in 1997 with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice and a minor in psychology.
Vernola thanked God, his parents and family, fellow council members and city staff in brief comments.
He was born in Los Angeles and has lived in Norwalk since 1944. Vernola graduated from Norwalk High School and at the age of 20 started his own business as an automotive service station owner.
He expanded his business to include a towing company and an automotive shop.
Vernola has been involved in Norwalk civic affairs for more than 46 years. He founded and heads the Santa Sleigh Foundation, a nonprofit group which brings a decorated mobile sleigh with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and elves to various neighborhoods at Christmas.
Perez, a member of the Planning Commission before her election to the council, was honored by colleagues, officials from surrounding cities and resident groups for her service the past year.
She noted city economic progress under her tenure, including plans to develop the former Tank Farm and California Youth Authority site. She previously mentioned plans to bring in three new grocery markets —Smart Choice, Grocery Outlet and El Super — as well as a number of restaurants.
“It’s been a year I will never forget,” Perez said. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve Norwalk and I am grateful for the support from residents and my family.”
By Arnold Adler