Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Social Media Activism Upends Southeastern LA County

On November 18th, 2015, The Los Angeles Times published a glowing article praising the new leadership in Southeastern LA County communities.

The comments include fulsome yet unjustified praise for the city councils of Cudahy and other South LA cities.

After the dust settled and the FBI had scoured through town on the hunt for crooked politicians, the voters of the city of Cudahy cleaned house.

But they didn't just elect new politicians. They elected younger ones, with college degrees — millennials with the know-how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to deliver their messages to residents.

There are few problems with this analysis. The corruption has not disappeared. A new crew of corruptniks has taken over city hall, and they want to get rich off the taxpayers and working-class residents in the city. They are pandering the Chamber of Commerce rather than representing the best interests of the United States citizen or the California resident.

Gone were skeletal city websites that almost seemed designed to share no meaningful information, replaced with more in-depth sites.

Just below the framed photos of the five Cudahy council members at City Hall is a sign with a bar code that people can use to download the agenda on their smartphones. Most of the residents on a recent night walked past the sign and went straight to physical copies sitting on a glass counter. But the bar code underscored the direction Cudahy officials want to go in a predominantly Latino city of 24,000 where the average person is only 22 years old.

"We need to embrace the fact that technology is playing a critical role not just for us millennials but Latinos in general," said Cudahy Vice Mayor Christian Hernandez, 26, who has a degree in political science from UCLA. "We're a poor region but everyone owns a smartphone."

Indeed, how does one explain this strange disparity? The wealth gap is a wisdom gap oftentimes. Men and women need to spend their money on priorities, not toys.

The heavily immigrant, working-class towns along the 710 Freeway have long struggled with municipal corruption, in part because there was little public scrutiny of City Hall. A new generation of younger leaders now believes technology can lead to more transparency, and participation.

And why is there little scrutiny? Because residents in the city do not vote or pay attention. Why not? A significant number live in the country illegally.

In Maywood, high school students in September used Facebook to reach out to Maywood Mayor Eduardo De La Riva about creating a 5K run. They presented a map of the course to the council last month.

Diana Gastelum, 17, a Bell High School student, said social media make politicians accessible and "you feel less nervous about it."

These students are right. We the People Rising are also using social media, and bringing down the corruption Huntington Park, CA City Council.

"The way technology is going, there are so many different ways to reach out to people but I mostly use Facebook," she said. "I had him as a Facebook friend and it was easier to contact him."

Whether this new push will be a long-term game changer in a region of Los Angeles County with historically low voter turnout and a reputation for political corruption remains to be seen.

But Cudahy Mayor Cristian Markovich, 29, said it would be hard to argue that serious change hasn't taken place.

"We have a city hall that is running 24 hours, seven days a week," Markovich said. "Residents can reach us by email, social media, phone or they can do it the old-fashioned way — by making an appointment."

Sounds like a political machine to me. Who is paying for the long-running politicization of city hall? And why did they declare their city a "sanctuary" for illegal aliens?

The mayor added: "Sometimes we joke the scandal was the best thing for the city."

Secrecy used to be at the center of how several city halls in southeast L.A. County operated.

Politicians with questionable intent had a built-in advantage: A large percentage of the population in towns such as Cudahy, Bell, Maywood, Huntington Park and South Gate was made up of immigrants without legal status who could not cast votes. Fearful of drawing attention to themselves, they were also less likely to complain to authorities if they suspected something was wrong in city hall.

They still are. The good news is that more legal residents are stepping up and railing against them.

Those residents who did come forward, demanding information, were sometimes lied to. That happened in Bell, to one man who suspected then-City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid a troublingly high salary. Bell provided him with forged records that understated his compensation. When the Los Angeles Times eventually revealed that Rizzo made at least $800,000 a year, a scandal that drew national attention broke out. (Rizzo's total yearly compensation turned out to be about $1.5 million.)

In Cudahy, people running against council incumbents were targets of smear campaigns. In at least one case, a candidate had a Molotov cocktail flung at his house. An FBI affidavit described a bribe given in a shoe box at a Denny's; it described rigged elections and drugs being used at city hall as well as city workers being used as armed bodyguards for the small town politicians.

Sounds like sleazy mafia gangsterism to me, and sadly, it has not changed all that much.

In Cudahy, the city is in the midst of changing its motto from "Serving the People" to "The Future Starts Here." Officials say they want to create jobs by tapping into the booming tech industry. But to do that there has to be a cultural shift where "we have to incorporate technology in our everyday talk."

Notice how the emphasis no longer rests on service to others.

"It's kind of like what former Apple CEO John Sculley did: You just point the ship forward and fix the leak," Markovich, the Cudahy mayor, said. "We're now just starting to build things."

I thought Obama said: "You didn't build that!" These local politicians are mostly Obama acolytes who think that they are the Hope and Change everyone has been waiting for.

Someone needs to take them aside and teach them to respect their elders, learn free market economics, and respect for the rule of law.

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