Challengers say the corruption is real, incumbents say it’s time to move forward

CALEXICO — In a loaded race with 11 candidates vying for four seats on the Calexico City Council, incumbents and challengers have different views on the past, current, and future outlooks of the City.

The Calexico City Council race sees incumbents Bill Hodge and Lewis Pacheco, and appointed incumbent Camilo Garcia up for three, four-year-term seats against challengers Michael Christopher Mayne, Javier Moreno, Joong Kim, Gloria Guadalupe Romo, and Jason Jung.

In the same election, appointed incumbent Morris Reisin defends his two-year seat against challengers Raul Ureña and Michael Anthony Jeffers.

Incumbent Garcia was appointed to the Calexico City Council in late June to replace David Romero after he was charged in federal court for accepting cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent.

Incumbents say the City has course-corrected since instances, accusations, and rumors of corruption, while challengers say the City still has a lot of work to do to improve.

“For me I think it is very important to be transparent, hold everybody accountable, and root out corruption and that's something as a city councilman I would be very sensitive too,” incumbent Bill Hodge said. “I know that I personally was the only one that spoke up in condemning that most recent corruption in Calexico; that (corruption) was result of one lone council member.”

Hodge, like other incumbents, said Calexico is based on rumors and there's a lot of harsh politics.

City Councilmember, also an incumbent, Lewis Pacheco agreed.

“It's a black eye when someone in our community that's an elected official does something to make us look bad and it is what it is, but it doesn't go further than that. It was one council member that, on his own, tried to collect or make money but that doesn't lump us all into the category,” Pacheco said.

“There's a conflict going on and to me I don't want to take the road of just ‘no comment,’ but I'm here to talk about me,” incumbent Camilo Garcia said. “I'm not here to really get into other issues because to me, the more that we go back to those issues that happened in the past, the more that we waste our time.”

Fellow appointed incumbent and Mayor Pro-tem Morris Reisin agreed.

“There is no corruption; there is a few people that are out there that are anti-council and want to get in. They are making up a lot of stories,” said Reisin, adding that he believes this is the best city council he has seen in the last decade.

“As far as the mayor, it was her rotation as part of protocol. What she does in her personal life, that's her personal life,” Reisin said, “but as far as her being the mayor, she does a good job and she doesn't bring her personal life in the council. She's got resilience and she's strong.”

The challengers to the incumbents disagreed.

“I definitely think Calexico is corrupted to the core, to the freaking core. They’re lying to the citizenship,” said retired police officer turned private investigator, Jason Jung.

Jung alleges various forms of corruption in Calexico — including lack of transparency regarding the City budget — saying it doesn’t just end with the current mayor.

“I feel that there's so much corruption in this small town. It’s ridiculous," said Michael A. Jeffers, a challenger for Reisin’s two-year seat. "I feel like (in) this small town it gets swept under the rug, and I feel like people here don't investigate.” 

Jeffers said he is running for city council as “someone from the streets that really cares to find out what’s really going on” and he “wants to be a voice for the people.”

Similarly, Reisin’s other rival, mathematical Economist Raul Ureña, said he believes Calexico — being one of the few cities in the region and state to cancel office hours and only take public comments via email regarding city meetings — has a lack of transparency, enabling corruption.

Ureña said his platform has six basic priorities: affordable and sustainable housing, access to public transit for mobility, clean air and water, greater access to grocery and commerce, greater access to healthcare, and more local infrastructure and investment in local commerce.

Fiscal responsibility is also on challenger Javier Moreno’s priorities, the retired special agent of 30 years running for a four-year seat on the council, he said.

Moreno, who holds seats on various community boards including the Imperial Valley Continuum of Care, Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council, and is currently president on the WomanHaven Inc. and Calexico Wellness Center boards, said he would resign the positions which would prove as conflicts of interest if he was elected to the Calexico City Council.

Moreno said employment, equal representation, and oversight “to ensure the taxpayers are getting their money's worth” are important to him.

“Most importantly, nobody is talking about accountability,” Moreno said. “What I propose is to create an oversight citizen's committee so the citizens keep us — the politicians — in check (so that) they can hold us accountable. We work for the citizens.”

Michael “Chris” Mayne believes in strongly supporting public safety, as well as economic development, business retention, and city recreation.

“There are programs that used to exist in Calexico that do not anymore because the programs have been canceled. You can't forget about recreation, especially right now during a pandemic,” Mayne said.

“We need to dispel this notion that everyone running as a candidate is running for personal gain,” he said. “My slogan is ‘Calexico first.’ We need to help our town.”

Four-year term challenger, Gloria Romo, has sat on the Heffernan Memorial Healthcare District in Calexico since 2016 and was a Calexico Unified School District board member for a four-year term until 2012.

Romo, listed as business administrator and economist on the ballet, said if elected to the city council she will “represent the citizens of Calexico in an honorable way by listening and acting fairly.”

In addition, she said she vows to be honest and transparent, improve the quality of life of Calexico citizens during and after the pandemic, focus on financial resources, improve and support community services — including city water, police and fire departments, farmworker and senior citizen programs — promote commercial and industrial involvement in the community, seek funds to improve the Calexico International Airport, coordinate with border authorities, and review or renew costs and protocols for licenses and permits.

Former CUSD trustee, businessman, and local California First 5 commissioner, Joong Kim, is also a former Calexico City Council member running who is running for a four-year term in this election.

“I have experience and I want to be there solely for the community's benefit and not chasing my personal agenda,” Kim said, stating he wants an investigation into city finances.

“Everybody said they were going to fight for the water bill but what did they do? They forgot. The last two people elected from the two seats two years ago never ever put it on the agenda to try to look into the possibility to lower the water rate,” Kim said.

As a businessman, Kim said the City’s latest efforts on COVID-19 relief for businesses is “too little, too late,” alleging the City didn’t look into special loans and state grants in March while other cities were.

The incumbents don’t share the same outlook.

“So they can come up and still throw stuff at us — and there's a lot of things that they're going to throw at us — but the people realize it’s a vote for us if they want to keep us there,” Reisin said.

Reisin said he believes the community has a lot of confidence in him, and he said he uses his former business — Sports International, a sporting goods store in downtown Calexico — so community members can speak to him anytime between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“We got $40 million to help out the water basin and we get a lot of things done but I don't go out there and tell people; I'm a doer,” he said. “I go day-to-day to try to find things to do to help the City.”

“I'm a big proponent of economic development,” said fellow appointed incumbent Garcia.

Garcia said he wants to help bolster the police, fire, and all city departments, as well as continue to address issues with parks, water, and infrastructure. He also said it’s important to utilize partnerships between Calexico and other entities.

Pacheco, who is running for his third term on the council acknowledged the lack of customer traffic and dire straits for the businesses in downtown Calexico but said the City will “continue with following the State and County guidelines to make sure everybody is safe to make sure we don't add to the problem.”

Hodge said he believes taking advantage of the strong business relationship with neighboring Mexicali could help Calexico economically.

“We need to be better at being business friendly, look at our impact fees, and streamline our process for developers and businesses, be very open and accessible for development,” Hodge said. “We need to be proactive, not sit back as a council or city management and wait for new businesses to find us, no, we need to turn that around and solicit and network to bring businesses into Calexico — and we can’t forget our already-established businesses.”

Challengers say the corruption is real, incumbents say it’s time to move forward

Reporter

Roman has worked for multiple local news and non-profit orgs including IV Press and VW Mag, IVROP, St. JP2 Radio and is also with The Southern Cross. An El Centro native, he graduated from Marywood U in Scranton, Pennsylvania. rflores@thedesertreview.com

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