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Residents of scandal-plagued Bell flocked to the polls Tuesday and elected five new City Council members in hopes of getting a fresh start in a municipality that has been politically stagnant since eight current and former officials were charged with bilking public funds.
Four council members who were indicted all agreed not to seek re-election. Councilman Luis Artiga did more -- he resigned outright. Hence, the door was opened for a host of candidates who were on the ballot in hopes of claiming one of the five seats on the council.
Three of the council seats -- those of Mayor Oscar Hernandez, George Mirabal and Lorenzo Velez -- were being sought by a total of 10 candidates. Velez, the only incumbent who was not indicted, was seeking re-election, but lost.
According to unofficial results, the top three voter-getters were Ali Saleh, a business owner; Nestor Enrique Valencia, a health care administrator; and Violeta Alvarez, a social services worker.
Also on the ballot were Fidencio Joel Gallardo, an English teacher; Willie Aguilar, a general contractor; Estela Mota, a business woman and Realtor; Marcos A. Oliva, a programmer/analyst; Mario S. Rivas, a military officer; and Imelda Serrano, a student.
Since Artiga resigned, a separate election was held to fill the two years remaining in his term. Attorney/activist Ana Maria Quintana topped the field of candidates with 44 percent of the vote. The closest challenger was educator Miguel Sanchez, whose name was on the ballot even though he died on Friday after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms.
Donald H. Tavares, who listed his occupation as transport/logistics, placed third.
The remaining indicted council member, Teresa Jacobo, still had two years remaining in her term, but she was overwhelmingly recalled today. Danny Harber, a retiree, easily claimed her seat, defeating volunteer director Coco Ceja in the race to succeed Jacobo.
The winning candidates will take over a city in dire financial straits. The City Council has not met since the indictments were announced in September, and the city is facing a deficit estimated at about $4.5 million.