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Bell City Council race heats up in final hours

March 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Robert Rizzo, the face of the Bell salary scandal, was back in court Monday and a step closer to trial.

The corruption case against former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo and his former assistant moved forward Monday in a downtown L.A. courtroom.

But all eyes were on the city of Bell Monday, where voters are hours away from replacing elected officials ensnared in the scandal.

It's one of the most important elections in the history of Bell. The recall could change every member of the city council.

Some candidates were going door to door Monday. There were also some allegations of voter intimidation.

Ana Maria Quintana has been going door to door for weeks handing out pamphlets and talking to voters.

"Tomorrow it's election day, so it's definitely going to be chaotic," said Quintana. "But I also think it's a really great day, because people will come out. I think people are tired of being taken advantage of."

She is one of 17 candidates running for five seats on the Bell City Council.

One candidate, Miguel Alejandro Sanchez, died suddenly on Friday. Family members said they believe he contracted the H1N1 virus while campaigning door to door. Friends say he was under huge stress dealing with a recall election.

Some people say the recall election is getting dirty and rough.

"I think it's unfortunate because I think it distracts from the real purpose, which is people taking back their community," said Quintana.

Gwilym McGrew is upset over a mailer sent out by the Bell Police Officers Association. He doesn't live in Bell but he got involved in the election, giving money and supporting a slate of candidates under the banner Justice for Bell.

The Officers Association supports a different group and the mailer shows officers in uniform.

"With their city badges and shields, with their guns, with their Tasers, standing in front of police vehicles, so they are campaigning with city assets," said McGrew.

That's a violation of both the Bell city code and state law.

"State law has there are two provisions in the government code with regard to an officer appearing in uniform in an electioneering, and yes, that would be against state law as well," said Acting Bell City Attorney Jamie Casso.

The Officers Association supports a group called United4Bell. One of the candidates in that group is Ali Saleh.

"The police department, of which I have no involvement, any of the pieces or what, all our own mail pieces are clean," said Bell City Council candidate Ali Saleh.

Calls to the Bell Officers Association were not returned.

Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo was in court Monday. The judge still has to decide if there's enough evidence for Rizzo to stand trial for corruption.

I think it distracts from the real purpose, which is people taking back their community," said Quintana.