When the City Council voted unanimously to elect council member Bob Davila as mayor July 3, the most surprised person in the room may have been Davila himself.
"I was holding my breath," Davila said after the meeting.
Since his election to the council in 1982, Davila, 58, a veteran Los Angeles police officer, has been on the short end of numerous 4-1 votes, and has been involved in several public clashes with his colleagues. In taking office, Davila also survived a behind-the-scenes attempt to bypass him as mayor.
"I know they attempted to bypass me," Davila said. "That's no news to me. I knew it was in the air and I was prepared for it."
Of colleagues on the council who have opposed him in the past, Davila said, "I don't hold any animosity. Hopefully one of these days they'll accept me and my principles because I'm trying to do my best for the city of Downey.
"I can work with anybody as long as they give me half a chance and I think they've showed that they would give me that chance."
First Latino Mayor
In taking the primarily ceremonial office, Davila said he became the city's first Latino mayor. Nearly 18% of Downey's 83,000 residents are Latino.
Although City Council members publicly backed Davila as mayor in interviews after the election, it appears that in light of past disputes, Davila presides over an uneasy alliance at best.
The alliance may be sorely tested as the City Council faces several important decisions this year. Those decisions include selecting a new city manager, choosing a site for an auto mall and deciding whether to go ahead with plans to expand the city's redevelopment district.
In an interview, Davila said he planned to spend more time at City Hall than former mayors. After 28 years as an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, Davila is now taking three months of vacation and said he is considering retiring.
He said that if he retires, he would "most likely" serve as a full-time mayor until June, 1986, when he is up for reelection. Council members are unsalaried, but receive $330 a month for expenses, with the mayor receiving an extra $60 a month.
In his stormy career on the council, the new mayor has made several enemies, but also has acquired a reputation for speaking his conscience on controversial issues, regardless of political consequences.
"I'm here to represent the silent majority because I know how they feel," Davila said.
In 1983, for example, Davila was the lone dissenter when the council voted to approve a $1-a-year, 99-year lease of city-owned Downey Community Hospital to a nonprofit foundation that runs the hospital. Davila campaigned against the lease, calling it a "giveaway," but voters ultimately approved the lease by a 3-1 margin in July, 1983.
Throughout his council career, Davila has consistently voted against redevelopment in Downey, saying this year that redevelopment is a way to "steal money from the taxpayers." As recently as Tuesday, he was the only council member to vote against appropriating $11,000 to study adding 629 acres to the city's 511-acre redevelopment district.
Opposed Church Sale
And in 1984, Davila was the only council member who opposed the council's decision to sell 60,000 square feet of land on Firestone Boulevard to the First Baptist Church of Downey. The church, which counted two council members among its congregation, offered the city $744,128, but another bidder offered the city $859,162.
Davila also clashed with Police Chief Bill Martin this year over a department policy of destroying police personnel records of internal investigations that are 5 or more years old. Davila said the records should not be destroyed, and said Martin was being "overprotective" of his officers, but lost a 3-2 council vote to rescind the policy.
Davila said his political career has taught him, "You can't fight City Hall. All you can do is join it and not try to be abrasive."
The new mayor said that in the past year he has attempted to improve his relationship with colleagues.
"I haven't been as critical or as outspoken as I have for the first two years, and the reason is I have a very good relationship with the two new members that came aboard last July," Davila said of council members James Santangelo and Diane Boggs.
"They (Boggs and Santangelo) at least give me a fair chance to present my case rather than have me completely isolated."
Of the two senior council members, Robert Cormack and former mayor Randy Barb, Davila said, "They just tolerate me."
Last month, according to three top city officials, Barb and Cormack separately approached Boggs and offered to support her as mayor rather than Davila, who, as mayor pro tem, was in line for the position.
Boggs declined to comment publicly, saying only, "I voted to respect the rotation system" (of selecting mayors)."
"I felt we owed each council person that opportunity" to be mayor, Boggs said.
Cormack was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Barb said, "I don't recall a conversation or any conspiring to do anything different" than choosing Davila as mayor. He added that he voted for Davila and believes he will do a good job.
Santangelo would not comment publicly, but said Davila was a "sincere and honest individual."
"I think we should be proud that a man of his integrity is going to represent us as the mayor."
Davila, however, said he was aware of the attempt to bypass him, and said of Barb and Cormack, "I know if they could swing that third vote (to replace him as mayor), they would do it tomorrow."
But he added, "I don't want to say anything that would rock the boat. I want to see us all on the same happy ship."