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Cudahy Council candidates hit by vandalism

Times Staff Writer

When Luis Garcia first ran for Cudahy City Council in 2007, vandals spray painted his white Dodge Dakota.

His friend and fellow candidate Tony Mendoza later dropped out of the race after receiving death threats on his answering machine.

Garcia and another novice candidate, Daniel Cota, continued, campaigning to combat gangs and lure more businesses to the tiny Latino suburb southeast of Los Angeles. They lost by a few dozen votes.

Earlier this month, Cota and Garcia launched a website announcing their intention to run for City Council again next year.

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On Thursday night, while Garcia was watching TV in his living room, he heard breaking glass, looked outside and saw his Dodge Dakota engulfed in flames; someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at it.

The incident marked the sixth time since the 2007 election that he had been the target of vandalism, Garcia said. His truck has been hit with paint four times in the last 20 months, according to police reports. Two weeks ago, someone threw a brick through his living room window.

Although he has no way to prove it, Garcia said he is convinced the incidents are related to his council candidacy. He is a 34-year Cudahy resident who was never a victim of vandalism until he ran for the council, Garcia said.

“I feel, obviously, I’m under serious attack,” said Garcia, 39, who is an inspector with the Long Beach Engineering Department. “Somebody wants to not have me be part of the next election.

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“I’ve lived in this city for 34 years,” Garcia said. “But since I ran for City Council, all of a sudden I’m under mysterious attack.”

A Los Angeles County arson investigator confirmed that the fire bombing had occurred but declined to comment further.

Maywood Police Chief Frank Hauptmann, whose department contracts with Cudahy to provide police services, said only that his officers would be working with the county to conduct a thorough investigation of the Thursday night truck fire.

“This is the first time I heard about it,” Vice Mayor Frank Gurule, a longtime council member, said. “I haven’t heard anything from our police officers or our code enforcement.”

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Until 2007, Cudahy City Council members had run unopposed for eight years. Their ally, City Manager George Perez, previously served on the council. Most council members have been in office since the 1990s.

A lifelong resident of the community of 26,000, Garcia said City Hall needs more independent voices, and that is why he is running for office.

Cota, a 29-year-old elementary school teacher, said he too had been the target of vandalism. He said in May that someone had thrown acrylic paint on his Acura parked in his driveway.

“They just came and targeted my car,” he said, noting that the vandals had passed up two other cars in his driveway that were closer to the street. “It’s just strange.”

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Still, Garcia and Cota said the recent incidents had not deterred them in their campaigns.

“I love living here,” Cota said. “I’m not afraid.”

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

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