Reaction from Bell: ‘Rizzo is next!’
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Activists who led a fight for reform in Bell following the city’s salary scandal in 2010 gathered outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the convictions of five former council members.
All but one of the six ex-council members accused of misappropriating public funds with their oversized salaries had been found guilty on multiple charges earlier in the day. One of the former leaders, also a pastor in town, was acquitted on all counts.
Wearing red shirts with the group’s name – BASTA, or Bell Assn. to Stop the Abuse – the group carried signs reading “‘Rizzo Is Next!’ and ‘We Want Jail Time for the Guilty.’ The trial for the city’s former top administrator, Robert Rizzo, will take place later this year.
But once the TV cameras vanished, the city activists talked about the meaning of the verdicts.
‘They found them guilty on enough, on the important counts,’ said Robert Mackin, a 78-year-old retiree who lives in Bell.
As for Luis Artiga’s acquittal, Mackin said he wasn’t surprised.
‘He wasn’t as guilty as the rest of them. They kept him in the dark.’
Fellow BASTA member Adriana Miramontes disagreed.
‘We have a saying in Spanish,’ she said. ‘The person holding down the cow is as guilty as the one killing it.’
Miramontes, who has lived in Bell 23 years, said she was overwhelmed when news first broke in 2010 of the scope of the alleged corruption on the council. Many of the city leaders she had known for years.
‘How can you do this to your own community and your own friends?’
She was also saddened that her community seemed to lack the same unity that had bound them in those first days of outrage, back when they first learned how much their city leaders were earning. Back then, hundreds of angry residents descended on City Hall, demanding change.
‘At the beginning it was a team effort, but I guess people got tired of being pulled in different directions,’ she said.
As the afternoon wore into evening, members of another group, Bell Lobby, arrived toting signs that read ‘Bell Still Corrupt!’ Tensions flared immediately as the newcomers posed alongside BASTA members with their signs. ‘Take that sign down!’ yelled Cynthia Rodriguez. ‘Why do you have to be so negative?’
‘We are realistic,’ said Jimmy Mourad, whose sign, which read “Bankruptcy Now!!!,” was drawn on the back of a campaign sign from his recent failed City Council campaign.
He and others believe the city, particularly police officers, are still paid too much and that corruption in the small, working-class remains rampant.
‘Why is Bell corrupt?’ retorted one man. ‘Because the people voted and it was the people you didn’t want?’
The tension boiled over in small screaming matches but 20 minutes later, most of the crowd had dispersed, leaving reporters to wait for the evening council meeting to begin, when newly elected council members would be sworn in.
-- Christine Mai-Duc