By Ashley Orona
BELL GARDENS — A young candidate has apparently won one of two open City Council seats, reflecting local residents’ desire for a shakeup in city government.
Jorgel Chavez, 23, leads the Bell Gardens City Council race with 27% of the votes, followed by Maria Pulido with 21% and Jennifer Rodriguez with 20%, according to the unofficial vote count from the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.
Chavez ran a grassroots campaign focused on addressing homelessness and other pressing city issues and was up against three people that have all previously served on the City Council — Pulido, Rodriguez and current Councilman Pedro Aceituno.
Chavez’s election reflects a desire for change from community members who are tired of a City Council that they call unresponsive and ineffective.
“We are so ready for changes, new ideas, new people,” said resident Alma Chavez on Facebook. “We are tired of the same [people] that do nothing for our city.”
Other residents have recently called out current council members for unprofessional conduct at City Council meetings, citing a September incident where the mayor and mayor pro tem argued back and forth over allegations that Mayor Pro Tem Lisseth Flores made about the council misusing public funds. Flores’ accusations included personal attacks against Mayor Alejandra Cortez.
Residents have also criticized Jennifer Rodriguez for running for City Council again after Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered her removed from office last Feb. 5 for not attending council meetings for more than 60 consecutive days.
Chavez’s campaign consisted of himself, his treasurer and a few volunteers who canvassed and directly engaged with voters. The candidate fulfilled multiple roles and did most of the campaign work himself compared to others running with more funding and larger teams.
“I put a lot of work into my election,” he said. “I didn’t have any directors for communications, social media, fundraising, or any of that. It was all done by me.”
A key issue Chavez plans on tackling in office is the rise of homelessness. His plan includes expanding partnerships with nonprofits that run mental health and addiction programs for homeless people. He also plans on forming a coalition with other elected officials in the Southeast region to come up with a collective approach to what he calls a regional issue.
Chavez said does not believe his age will inhibit him from serving on the council and advocating for his community. Rather, he said that while he was canvassing many residents related to his experience as a first-generation college student and believed his education and passion would lead him to make good decisions.
“People when they saw me often they say, ‘Wow, you’re the age of my son or daughter’ and a lot of times they’d speak very well about them,” Chavez said. “They’d give me more opportunity to hear me out.”
In terms of any dysfunction on the Bell Gardens City Council, Chavez said he hopes everyone on it can forget the past, work together and prioritize what is in the best interest of the residents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.