Each of Carson's eight City Council candidates say that they will bring unity to the politically divided city.
But they all have clearly aligned with one of the two political factions in town. Five hopefuls support incumbent Mayor Jim Dear, and three side with councilwoman and mayoral candidate Lula Davis-Holmes. The two contenders for mayor have long been political foes.
In the Davis-Holmes camp are incumbent Councilman Mike Gipson, Councilwoman Julie Ruiz-Raber and activist Rita Boggs.
Dear claims Water Replenishment Board of Southern California President Albert Robles, Planning Commissioners Charlotte Brimmer and Joseph Gordon, school counselor Stephen C. Anyaka, and engineer Tim Muckey.
Measure M, a ballot proposal that asks voters to consider adopting a rotating mayor rather than a biannual directly elected mayor, is supported by Davis-Holmes, Ruiz-Raber and Gipson. Dear and his allies adamantly oppose it.
Most cities in Los Angeles County have rotating mayors, and supporters say it is more democratic to share the power by having a new mayor each year. Opponents argue that it's less democratic because it takes power away from residents to choose their mayor.
Ruiz-Raber, 71, is a retired administrative assistant who has been on the council for eight years. She teaches belly dancing part-time and has long been an active community volunteer. She was an ardent Dear supporter until 2011, when he sought her support to have a city street named after him.
"I think I'm different because I've worked with both sides, Jim Dear and Lula Davis-Holmes," Ruiz-Raber said. "When I voted on Dear's side, it was because of quality-of-living issues. I decided I wanted to be fair and make sure both sides were heard. Dear has been angry with me ever since I wouldn't support a street named after him. It's so childish.
If re-elected to a third term, Ruiz-Raber said she would continue to focus on being an advocate for seniors, creating jobs, and prioritizing public safety in the budget.
She belongs to the city's five senior clubs and said she carries a notebook with her everywhere to keep track of residents' requests.
She said she routinely answers calls at home from residents who need advice on a broken heater, on how to dispose of bulky trash items or what to do with a big branch that fell in a front yard.
"They tell me they need a new bench or a new clock at the community center," she said. "They tell me if it's too cold in the community center ... I like serving the people because I'm the ninth child in a family of 15.
She said she is most proud of her support for the Boulevards at South Bay mixed-use development, the coming Porsche Experience Center simulated driving course, and a prescription drug program that provides discounts to residents who don't have medical coverage.
Gipson similarly expressed excitement about the Porsche and Boulevards projects. The Boulevards is slated to bring a massive entertainment and shopping center to a large swath of land previously unusable because it once housed landfills. The developer is remediating the land to make it habitable, with help from the city, and will ultimately erect an outlet mall, theater and homes along the San Diego (405) Freeway at Avalon Boulevard.
Gipson, 46, is seeking a third term on the council.
"We have a billion-dollar project that's going to mean 5,000 brand-new jobs coming to Carson," Gipson said of the Boulevards development. "I want to see that project completed. I want to see other business interests that we have on the drawing board finished and completed. It's going to take more time for me on the City Council to do that."
Gipson echoed a common concern among the council candidates - that the state's public safety realignment program is causing a spike in crime because it transfers nonviolent offenders to the county probation system after they've served time in state prisons. Last year, Carson was home to 134 parolees released under the program. Though local law enforcement officials have found no direct correlation between that and any crime surge, Gipson and other council candidates have insisted something more needs to be done with these parolees.
Gipson, a former police officer, said he believes the jobs created by the planned developments will help to prevent crime because programs exist to employ ex-convicts.
"The projects increase employment opportunities and decrease crime because you give a person a job," Gipson said. "They have investment into their community as opposed to somebody breaking into a house to make ends meet."
Like Gipson and Ruiz-Raber, Rita Boggs also believes the council members should share equal authority with the mayor - a belief that Dear and his supporters oppose.
Boggs, 74, is from New York, where she was a Roman Catholic nun and high school teacher until she decided to get her doctorate in chemistry and start her own company in California.
For the past decade, she has attended nearly every Carson council meeting. She also served on the Planning Commission and the Mobile Home Rent Review Board for several years.
"The City Council is very badly divided," Boggs said. "People on the council don't have a clue what they're doing. There is a lot of ignorance as to how things should be done."
She said she would bring a relaxed, focused approach to the council and a keen interest in the details of government workings.
Charlotte Brimmer, 56, is a planning commissioner and a Los Angeles Community Development Department project manager. She has four children and graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills.
As a supporter of Dear, she opposes Measure M and believes the mayor should have more power than council members in several areas, including appointing commissioners and giving ceremonial honors.
"I think the people are looking for a change," Brimmer said. "That's why I decided to run. I understand redevelopment. I can say: `Apple's looking for a place to move. Why don't they come here?' I would court them. We have to show corporations that we're not here to tax them over the head. We're here to work with them. I'm a very passionate and sincere, independent thinker."
If elected, Brimmer said she would work to build Neighborhood Watch groups and block clubs to help keep the community safer. She also wants to develop a veterans center in the city.
Like Brimmer, candidate Joseph Gordon also serves on the Planning Commission. The 48-year-old human resources manager moved to the area from Mississippi for the military.
"I'm embarrassed by some of the stuff that goes on in the city," Gordon said of his decision to run. "The City Council meetings go to 4 a.m. sometimes over petty stuff. I'm running to change the dynamics on the City Council. You have a 3-to-2 split and they sometimes oppose each other just for the sake of opposing. I'm pretty good at working to come to a compromise."
He said he wants to encourage more communication among neighbors and new development opportunities.
Albert Robles, 44, is a constitutional attorney and board president of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, where he has served since he was 23 years old.
He wants to start a center in the city that would work with foreign investors who want to immigrate to the country. The federal EB-5 Visa program allows those who invest at least $1 million into job-creating businesses here to get green cards.
"Carson has access to two of the busiest ports," Robles said. "It's an awesome location for any business."
He suggests doing extra monitoring because of the state realignment program, and encouraging residents to report every crime to police - no matter how small.
Robles, who also serves as treasurer of the Water Replenishment District, came under scrutiny last year when his financial troubles were publicized. He owed the IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board nearly $44,000 in unpaid taxes. Additionally, his water board wages were garnished because of a $13,000 unpaid credit card debt. Robles is guarded about his money troubles, and refused to say how they were resolved.
"It's not the Water Replenishment District that hasn't paid its taxes," Robles said. "My personal issues with the California Franchise Tax Board were a disagreement that has been resolved. I refused to pay them because of their behavior and conduct."
Tim Muckey, 58, is an engineer who served in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard. He said he has not been able to secure a volunteer commission position on a city board, and wants to be on the council for "personal and professional development, and for more friends."
Muckey said he wants the city to be more cost efficient - by, for example, turning off lights in City Hall when people leave rooms. He also wants to encourage more vocational training schools to come to the city.
"I don't claim to be any better than anyone else," Muckey said. "One word I try to say away from is `I.' It's a `we.' Carson has a great opportunity to move into the future. I really like the candidates, they have a lot to offer."
Stephen C. Anyaka, 48, taught high school chemistry for the Los Angeles Unified School District and now works as a school counselor.
He wants to encourage more rehabilitation programs for prisoners released under the state's public safety realignment program.
"We should be able to know who is coming back into Carson, and the nature of their crime," Anyaka said. "I would want to have a rehabilitation program for them and vocational schools we can send them to."
He said he would work with local businesses to provide funding for nonprofit youth programs. He's also concerned about truck noise in the Victoria Park area.
"The residents believe they are not being listened to," he said. "All we need to do is find out the number of trucks and the peak times in order to bring residents and businesses to the table and find a solution that benefits everybody."
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