Miguel Alejandro Sanchez, a longtime Bell resident who protested against the inflated salaries of local officials and was campaigning for a seat on the City Council, has died, just days before the election. He was 34.
Sanchez was pronounced dead at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center around 4:39 p.m. on Friday, just 12 hours after he had been admitted, said hospital spokeswoman Rosa Saca. The cause of death could not be released without authorization from his family, Saca said. Family members declined to comment Saturday.
Sanchez was running in Bell's general and special recall election Tuesday and hoped to succeed former Councilman Luis Artiga, who resigned last fall amid charges that he and seven other city officials had misappropriated public funds. Sanchez, who received an endorsement from Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, had campaigned alongside resident activists Nestor Valencia and Mario Rivas, members of the "Justice for Bell" slate. "He was very courageous, honest and a very humble person," Rivas said Friday.
A soft-spoken man who wore dark-framed glasses, Sanchez was a special education teacher's aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was also a part-time parks and recreation employee for the city of Bell.
"It's very, very sad," said Interim City Administrator Pedro Carrillo. "Our hearts and prayers go out to his family."
Last summer Sanchez was among hundreds of furious residents who demonstrated outside of Bell City Hall and demanded the resignations of city officials who were receiving hefty salaries.
In July, The Times reported that the city of about 39,000 was paying its administrators and police chief the largest municipal salaries in the state, if not the country. Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo was collecting nearly $800,000 a year, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia was getting $400,000 and former Police Chief Randy Adams was receiving $457,000 a year, about 50% more than Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck or Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Rizzo, Spaccia and six former and current council members are facing criminal charges of misappropriating public funds. No charges have been filed against Adams.
Rivas and Valencia said that Sanchez had become very distressed over the tone of the campaign, which had heated up in its final days. The faction had come under fire by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for receiving $60,000 in payments from a retired Woodland Hills businessman. The labor group characterized the donation as " 'tea party' money." The donor, Gwilym McGrew, said that was not the case.
Rivas said that Sanchez told him he wanted to drop out of the race because of the stress. On Monday he complained to Rivas of flu-like symptoms. Over the last few days both Rivas and Valencia said his condition had worsened, but both believed Sanchez would recover. "Sanchez was diabetic and I don't know if the pressure from the campaign was too much for him," Rivas said.
"I feel guilty," Valencia said in a quavering voice Friday night. "He told us he didn't want to do this anymore. But I told him he should run because I thought he was a good candidate, and I still think he is."