Two candidates hoping to succeed Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina faced off Thursday in Claremont, without the presumed front-runner participating.
El Monte Councilman Juventino "J" Gomez and Long Beach school police officer April Saucedo Hood fielded questions from a small audience at an assisted living facility during the event hosted by community group Active Claremont and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who has a substantial lead in fundraising and high-profile endorsements, didn't attend.
The program marked the first campaign forum in the race that was open to all candidates, and Gomez and Saucedo Hood criticized Solis for her absence.
Solis' campaign said she had a conflicting engagement, according to Active Claremont Vice President Michael Keenan.
Gomez and Saucedo, who have raised a fraction of the more than $625,000 in contributions Solis' campaign recently reported, said they would not be beholden to powerful interests, including union groups that have been key supporters of Solis' campaign.
Saucedo Hood, a Pico Rivera resident, said she is largely funding her own campaign, with some small contributions from family and friends. "I am not bought and paid for by any special interest," she said.
Gomez, a former aide to County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, took issue with suggestions that Solis has a virtual lock on a victory. "There's not going to be a coronation, there's going to be an election," he said. "The residents of the [this] district are going to be wise enough to decide who they want."
Both candidates said they would focus on public safety, looking for ways to manage jail overcrowding and the implementation of state prison realignment, which shifted responsibility for many prisoners from state prisons to county jails. Both also said they would support contracting jail beds outside Los Angeles County to reduce crowding and early releases of prisoners.
They also said they would support reforms to public employee pensions.
Gomez, a Vietnam-era veteran, cited his work on veterans issues, including championing a housing project for homeless veterans in El Monte.
Saucedo Hood said she wants more information readily available to the public about how the five county supervisors spend $3 million a year allotted to each of them for projects of their choosing.
"I believe in transparency," she said. "We should be able as the public to go online and see where this money is spent."