East Edition Lead Story

Whittier residents to elect mayor for first time

WHITTIER — Veteran City Council members Owen Newcomer and Joe Vinatieri say their past experience on the governing body will be helpful in bringing residents together as they vote for the first time April 12 under a new district system.

Previously council members rotated to fill the mayor’s seat for one year on the nomination of colleagues. This year residents citywide will vote directly for the mayor, who will fill a two-year term.

Also seeking the mayor’s post is businessman Nick Donovan, who was unsuccessful in efforts for a council seat two years ago.

Owen Newcomer
Owen Newcomer

“The role of elected mayor in our new district system is to unite Whittier’s different interest groups and geographic areas. I am uniquely qualified for this job,” Newcomer said.

“With 15 years on the Whittier City Council, three as mayor, 10 on the school board, and 40 years teaching government at Rio Hondo College, I have more knowledge and experience in public service than any other candidate.”

Joe Vinatieri
Joe Vinatieri

Vinatieri, an attorney, said: “I am running for mayor because my nine years on the City Council have given me a clear view of the needs and vision for our city and our residents.

“This new process for picking our city leaders offers new challenges and many new opportunities.”

Voters in June 2014, approved a City Charter change to elect a mayor citywide for two years and divided the city into four districts, each to elect a council member for a four-year term from among district residents.

The action was to comply with an out-of-court settlement after residents sued the city, saying the citywide election of City Council members discriminated against minorities.

Three candidates are seeking the council seat in District 1: David Gonzalez, an assistant professor of public administration; Robert Canales, a volunteer; and Josue Alvarado, a marketing professional.

The candidates must live in the district and only residents of that district may vote for one of them.

The district is generally on the southwest side of the city.

Councilwoman Cathy Warner was unopposed in District 3. That election was canceled and she was appointed to a four-year term.

District 3 is generally the entire eastern part of Whittier.

Council seats in Districts 2 and 4 will be up for election in April 2018.

Newcomer said he has walked every neighborhood in Whittier multiple times, reaching out and listening to citizen concerns.

“I stand on my record of supporting effective neighborhood policing; responsible budgeting; and efficient and equitable delivery of city services,” he added.

Vinatieri noted that Whittier has been home to his family for three generations.

He was born and raised in Whittier, attended Whittier schools and is a partner at the Whittier law firm of Bewley, Lassleben and Miller.

Vinatieri is a recent widower. He and his wife, Sandy, raised three children, now married — Sarah, Joe and Susanna who attended some of the same Whittier schools as their father.

“Whittier has a lot of old timers and a lot of new families,” Vinatieri said. “Our city is more diverse than ever. We need to keep our city economically competitive and we need to protect our residential neighborhoods.

“We need more local jobs and businesses and we need more housing options. We need to maintain public safety and we need to keep our city government decisions open and transparent to our residents,” he said.

As he did in his City Council campaigns in 2012 and 2014, Donovan, 55, called for new blood on the council.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “There have been too many bad decisions and too much money being lost. It’s time for a change.”

Donovan said he has been critical of the council’s decision to allow oil drilling in the hills. That issue continues in court.

On his ballot statement, he said the city is in an economic decline.

“The city of Whittier is in the red, drowning in litigation, with millions of dollars lost by bad decisions and lack of leadership on the council,” he said.

“I will restore leadership and trust, bringing more transparency, integrity, vision and participation to our city.”

He called for a promenade in Uptown Whittier, “that will stimulate the local economy and bring in good jobs, making sure our city has safer and cleaner streets and bring back the bicycle patrol and community-based policing.”

Born in the United Kingdom, Donovan spent much of his life in the London area before moving to California in 1989.

An insurance and finance advisor, Donovan has lived in Whittier for 17 years. He and his wife, Antonia Garcia, have four sons.

In the District 1 City Council race, Alvarado cited his ability to speak Spanish in a district that consists of southwest Whittier and is 84 percent Latino.

“We need to look at this part of Whittier as unique,” Alvarado said. “It hasn’t had a leader who can speak the language and speak to their needs. What I have going on is what the other candidates don’t is that I’m almost a mirror image of the individuals here. I come from immigrant parents.”

Alvarado lists his occupation as a “multi-cultural marketing specialist.”

He attended California High School, Rio Hondo College and earned a bachelor of business administration from Cal State Fullerton.

Listing himself as a community volunteer, Canales, 42, said he was born and raised in Whittier, attended local schools and earned an associate degree in business administration at Rio Hondo College and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State Fullerton.

He said he will work with the community to address such issues as crime, public safety and the development of the Nelles property, a former state youth facility on Whittier Boulevard.

Canales calls for City Council term limits, creation of an independent redistricting commission, a veteran’s housing and reception center and moving city elections from April to November.

Gonzalez, 38, an educator and member of the Transportation Commission, said on his ballot statement: “This election is about a community finally getting a voice. The time for change is now.”

Gonzalez, 38,  said his qualifications include 20 years as a police professional and his work as a community activist. He said he has served as a mentor to local youth and on the board of the local YMCA.

Voting for the April 12 election began on March 14 with the issuance of over 13,000 ballots to people registered as permanent vote-by-mail voters, City Clerk Kathryn Marshall said.

To date, 15,199 ballots have been issued and 2,915 have been returned she said as of April 4.

Any voter can come to City Hall, 13230 Penn St., weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and vote; or request a vote-by-mail ballot using the application form on the back of their sample ballot pamphlet.

Applications are also available on the City’s website: www.WhittierVotes2016.org.