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Compton's first Latino councilman inspired pride, now draws concern

On a scorching July afternoon, Compton residents gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the city's first Latino councilman. A nine-piece mariachi band played and families cheered at the event many had been awaiting for decades.

But just a few weeks into Isaac Galvan's term, some are already having misgivings about the councilman.

Galvan, 26, has failed to file any of the required campaign finance disclosures for the primary and runoff elections. As his first official action, he hired an aide with criminal convictions for political misconduct. And he has declined to answer detailed questions about his residency in the city.

"I'm not against him, but I'm not really happy like I wished to be," said Jose Torres, editor of a local bilingual newspaper, La Voz de Compton. Torres said there were too many unanswered questions about Galvan's past and political connections.

Latino activists have been working for years to break into city politics. Even though demographics have shifted over 20 years from majority black to nearly two-thirds Latino, African Americans maintained a hold on the Compton's power structure — until the election of Galvan.

Although Galvan was a new face to many in Compton, some in neighboring southeast L.A. County cities recognized him as a protege of his campaign manager, Angel Gonzalez, a printer and onetime political operative for former South Gate Treasurer Albert Robles, who is serving time in federal prison for his part in a wide-ranging bribery scheme.

Galvan met Gonzalez through the Boyle Heights branch of the Victory Outreach evangelical church and later worked for Gonzalez's printing and political consulting business. Immediately after taking office, Galvan hired Gonzalez to a $47,500 city job as his community liaison.

"My knowledge of Angel Gonzalez is all bad. His history in South Gate talks for itself," said longtime South Gate Councilman Henry Gonzalez. "I would question whether or not he's still got those bad habits."

In 2002, Angel Gonzalez was convicted of a felony conspiracy charge — reduced to a misdemeanor at his sentencing — for sending out attack mailers with copies of fake official documents. In a separate case, he was convicted of two misdemeanor counts of sending out misleading campaign fliers.

Galvan did not respond to several interview requests, but provided a brief written response to some questions. He denied in an email that Gonzalez had ever been convicted of a felony and said that Gonzalez "has the right education and experience as a bilingual community advocate" to serve the largely Spanish-speaking council district.

"In little time, I will prove through my actions that I will always act in best interest of the residents of Compton," Galvan said.

Gonzalez said prosecutors wanted to "squeeze" him for information about Robles, and he took a plea bargain after he ran out of money.

"If I was guilty, then I was guilty by association," he said.

Galvan gave the job to Gonzalez after initially proposing to hire Richard Mayer, another familiar face in southeast politics with a checkered past. Mayer was convicted of felony perjury in 2001 for lying about his address so that he could run for a South Gate City Council seat.

Galvan said Mayer was not involved in his campaign.

Galvan seemed to have a well-financed campaign. One resident, Olivia Lopez, said he sent out workers to cut down a dying tree after she complained; he acknowledged doing the same for others. On election day, he passed out burgers and soda to those who voted.

But it is unclear how much the campaign cost and who financed it. Galvan has not filed any of the required campaign finance disclosure forms, violations that can result in fines or criminal prosecution.

When questioned about the missing forms in early July, Galvan said he had filed them "yesterday." He also said he would provide a copy to The Times, but never did. On Thursday, he told The Times that his treasurer was "in the process of filing" and that he did not know how much he had spent on the campaign.

"It's really a pretty cut-and-dried rule," said Gary Winuk, head of the state Fair Political Practices Commission's enforcement division. "The public needs to have information about any public official or potential public official's personal financial interests."

In addition to questions about his finances, Galvan declined to answer several questions about his personal history.

Galvan said he grew up in Compton and ran for Compton City Council because he was tired of paying high water bills and seeing trash and mattresses on the street.

But county voter records show that he was registered at an East Los Angeles address until October, when he switched his registration to an address in Compton's 2nd District.

Roger Bagne, 66, a retired school employee who lives in Commerce, said Galvan lived with him a few days a week until late 2012, when he moved to Compton. The rest of the time, he stayed at Gonzalez's print shop in Los Angeles, Bagne said.

"He's a good kid," Bagne said. "I hope that election over there doesn't give him a big head."

Galvan's victory as Compton's first Latino elected public official came after years of political pressure by a group of Latino leaders, who backed a voting rights lawsuit and ballot initiative that led to a change in city elections.

The switch from at-large to by-district voting gave Latinos a better chance of electing a candidate of their choice in areas with large Latino populations, including the district where Galvan ran. Many expected Diana Sanchez, a longtime Compton activist who ran in another district, to be the first elected Latino. She lost, but Galvan beat out a longtime council member in a runoff.

"We've been praying to eventually get some Latino in office. Our prayers were answered," said Alex Leon, pastor of the Victory Outreach branch in Compton. But, he said, Galvan is "young and ambitious and that can get in the way. If he doesn't walk the line, he could mess it up for all of us."

abby.sewell@latimes.com

angel.jennings@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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