Lou Perez moved to this city in 1962, just a few years before Francis Palacio and Max Ragland made their first successful bids for City Council office.
In the years since, Perez said, the two councilmen have done much to improve La Puente, a city of 32,000, about 60% of whom are Latino. Now, after watching both men serve nearly 20 years in office, Perez thinks it is time for a change. He says his only problem has been finding an issue that would give greater depth to his campaign for City Council.
The city has a budget surplus of $14 million and an agreeable mix of residences and businesses. Crime is down, and graffiti is not much of a problem anymore. Over the years, Perez said, La Puente has retained its sense of community. About the only immediate need is for a center for senior citizens, who must compete with other groups for space at the one community facility.
But despite the absence of any serious problems, Perez, 48, said he believes the city would profit by electing new officials. He and the other challenger, Robert A. Stotelmeyer, 61, who moved here 31 years ago when La Puente was still unincorporated, said the City Council has become rooted in its ways, lacking the vision needed to create an even better community.
'Due for a Change'
"I feel we're due for a change," said Perez, who has been canvassing neighborhoods trying to drum up support and excitement in a city where less than 10 percent of those eligible vote. "I think the incumbents are real complacent. They've never really been challenged . . . . I'm out to win."
Five candidates, three of whom are incumbents, are running for three La Puente City Council seats in the April 8 election.
Perez, who designs diesel engine-generated power plants for a division of General Motors located in the City of Industry, is making his first run at public office. Stotelmeyer, a retired deputy sheriff and a trustee on the county's Employees Retirement Assn. board, has made three unsuccessful attempts at winning a council seat. Four years ago, he lost by 50 votes.
Seeking Sixth Terms
Palacio, 58, an account executive, and Ragland, 66, a business manager with the Hacienda Heights/La Puente Unified School District, each is seeking his sixth term in office.
The other incumbent seeking reelection is Louis Guzman, 66, a two-term city councilman who has served as mayor for the past year.
Although the election is just four weeks away, no real issues have emerged. And none of the five candidates expects an issue to surface before election day.
This is proof of a job well done, argue the incumbents.
"There are no issues," said Palacio, "so they're focusing on the only thing they can: 'Throw the old guys out.' I think we've done an outstanding job. We are leaders. We've given a lot of devotion and time and love for this city.
"Sure we've been here a long time. We're doing a good job. What can I tell you."
Change for Change Sake
Ragland said the argument by incumbents amounted to change for change sake. "I don't see it as an issue. I think the longer you are in office, the more knowledge and the better able you are to work with citizens."
The campaign has been subdued, partly the result of voter apathy and partly the lack of a transcending issue. Perez is the only candidate who has placed his signs in the community or passed out leaflets.
Perez' first taste of community service came as president of the La Puente-Industry Kiwanis Club. He thinks La Puente should be doing more to fill the idle time of both its young adults and senior citizens.
"Some of our surplus should be spent to develop facilities for our teen-agers and senior citizens," Perez said. "We have a tremendous amount of activity at the community center. It's overcrowded. We need another park and a separate senior citizens center."
Stotelmeyer said the council needs someone with his diverse background. "When you get new people, you get new ideas.
"My specialty on the retirement board is insurance--medical, dental and vision plans. I was a deputy sheriff for years. I think I can make use of that expertise on the council."
Mayor Guzman, a retired sheet metal worker and former field representative for state Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier), said he is inclined to agree with the challengers' call for new blood.
"I think we need younger people to run for the council. If I get reelected, this will probably be my last term," he said. "The only reason I'm running is to see that a senior citizen's center gets built."
Disappointed by Turnout
Guzman said he was disappointed by the 9.7% voter turnout in the 1982 race.
"The voters are very apathetic. We have no issues. We run a pretty good city. We keep our streets pretty clean. We trim our trees and clean our gutters. We are prudent when it comes to spending our money. Still, I'd like to see a larger turnout."
None of the five candidates said they expected to spend more than $1,000. "We're pretty low-key here," Guzman said.
But Perez said there already were indications that this campaign might be different.
"I put up two signs the other night and I went back later and they were both torn down," he said. "I think things are heating up.