Elections : In Bitter Fight, Wallach Wins Reelection as El Monte Mayor

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Mayor Patricia A. Wallach overcame an intensive campaign by city police against her to pull off a reelection victory.

The El Monte Police Officers Assn. went door-to-door during the campaign in an attempt to defeat Wallach because she had voted against increasing police patrols, arguing that the city could not afford it.

But on Tuesday, Wallach defeated association-backed candidate Terry Keenan, as well as Councilman Ernest G. Gutierrez, who had hoped to become the city's first Latino mayor. The final tally showed Wallach with 1,866 votes, compared with Keenan's 1,743 and Gutierrez's 1,403.

Incumbents also retained the two City Council seats at stake, with Councilwoman Maria F. Avila and Councilman Jack Thurston both defeating their nearest challenger, Gregory B. Griffith, by more than 250 votes.

"It's good to be back with the same old group," said Thurston, noting that the lineup of the council remained the same despite the election. "But hopefully we can unite the council. We definitely need to see some unity here over the next four or five years."

Unity was nowhere to be found during the campaign as the battle for votes polarized candidates on three fronts. Wallach, Griffith and George Williams ran on a slate that promised no new taxes, while Keenan, Thurston and Avila vowed to beef up the police force and make the city streets safe at any cost.

Caught in the middle was Gutierrez, who was striving to become the first Latino mayor in a city where 73% of the residents are Latino.

The war between Wallach and the association stems from the mayor's opposition last year to hiring 10 more police officers and raising the utility tax from 3% to 7% to provide funding for the public safety budget.

Though both measures were passed by the council, the association slammed her repeatedly throughout the campaign as a mayor who jeopardized the safety of the citizens of El Monte.

Campaign mud really started to fly late in the campaign when Richard Ruley, a transient, alleged that the president of the association, El Monte police agent George Hopkins, had paid him to destroy Wallach's campaign signs.

Wallach filed a police report against Hopkins. The muck thickened when Ruley fled the county to Victorville and El Monte detectives--who were assigned to the case despite the apparent conflict of interest--found two witnesses who said Ruley told them Wallach had paid him off to leave town.

Both parties deny any wrongdoing, with Wallach denouncing the incident as dirty politics and the association asserting that Ruley is a heroin addict with a felony record who would take any opportunity to slander the police department.

After the election, the current and future mayor said she hopes she can wash the mud from the campaign and make a clean start.

"I've already talked to some police officers, and I want to sit down and straighten things out," Wallach said during a break in her victory celebration.

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