NORWALK – The voters of Norwalk have spoken. With 100% of precincts reporting, Jennifer Perez, Tony Ayala, and Margarita Rios will serve as Norwalk's newest city council members this spring.
Perez, a Norwalk planning commissioner, and Ayala took an early lead Tuesday night in the crowded race for two, four-year terms open on the Norwalk City Council.
Perez garnered a solid victory, garnering 24.95% of the vote (1,588 votes) while Ayala, a former coordinator and services director at the Norwalk Senior Center, earned 23.71% of the vote (1,509 votes).
A sitting member of the Norwalk Planning Commission, Perez had no time to pause after winning her seat. On Wednesday, she was back at her job, driving back to Norwalk from Los Angeles in the afternoon for one of her son’s baseball games -- while another son attended a practice of his own.
She hoped to attend at least part of each activity before a scheduled Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night.
“I’ve already spoken to the deputy city manager to arrange some meetings in the next couple days so that I may better prepare myself [to] get up to speed on some of the immediate plans of action,” Perez said.
“I want to gather as much information I can and study and learn to be prepared…for [my] first meeting.”
Perez said she “wanted to thank the residents and businesses of Norwalk, my entire family and support team.”
“This is the first day of the next four [years].”
Reflecting on his campaign discussions with residents as he walked the precincts, Ayala reiterated his want for better communication between residents and the city services available.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Ayala said.
His first acknowledgment was that many of the city’s Hispanic population has very limited Spanish versions of important communications available to them.
Ayala suggests this is a result of the predominantly-English materials, like the “Norwalk Now” newsletter.
Trash collection -- specifically large items -- left on the streets by residents or others, is not being directed to the appropriate programs available for such things, Ayala said.
In addition to the communication issue, he also wants to look at the status of the repair of roads in the city.
“Streets are torn up. Whether its north, south east or west,” he said. “They are big dollar items. It’s going to take a lot of work to try to figure out how to fund these things.”
He praised Norwalk residents “for how smart they are,” recalling a group of residents who formed their own neighborhood watch program.
According to Ayala, “they have nothing to do with the city because the city hasn’t been proactive with neighborhood watch [so] they formed their own.”
“I think people are very, very, very aware and I think that is going to make a big difference in how fast we can change stuff,” he said.
Esperanza Free and Enrique Aranda trailed behind in Tuesday’s election with 1,003 and 893 votes respectively.
“I am pretty proud of the job and work we did,” said Free, speaking of the team effort involved. “I ran on my own merits including raising my own campaign money. Not bad for a first timer.”
The remaining candidates running for the two seats included Candy Martinez (473 votes), Harvey Cardenas (280 votes), Marcel Mercado (243 votes), Debbie Martinez (199) and Jamie E. Armenta (176).
In the special election to fill former Councilman Marcel Rodarte's seat on the council, Margarita Rios won soundly, earning 63.99% of the vote (2,324 votes).
“I’m just happy that our hard work paid off,” said Rios. “I’m very grateful to my group of volunteers who were with me along the way. I look forward to working the fellow councilmembers to make a positive impact in our city.”
Alberto Uribe, 24, who ran on a platform of youth and vitality, garnered just 303 votes, yet in defeat remained enthusiastic for Norwalk’s future.
“I’m excited for the future of Norwalk,” said Uribe. “I hope that the new leadership there will really work towards the issues that they were talking about…they’re definitely capable of bringing positive change and I’m excited for what they’re going to do. I’m thankful for this entire experience.”
Rodarte resigned last June to take a position as president of the California Contract Cities Association. Rios, a Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board member, will now serve the remaining two years of his term and is eligible to run as an incumbent in the next election.
Her opponents, Ken Menchaca and Uribe, received 1,005 and 303 votes respectively.
A swearing-in ceremony for all three new council members is set for April 11.