Mendoza Defeats Bernal to Win Two-Year Term on San Fernando City Council

Mary Mendoza, Cindy Montanez and Joel Fagardo

A year after being appointed to the San Fernando City Council, following the resignation of Antonio Lopez, Councilmember Mary Mendoza won her first election for a two-year term on the legislative body.

Mendoza received 3,204 votes, representing 60% of ballots cast, and handily defeated David Chiapa Bernal, who received 2,132 votes — 40%, — in his second try as a council candidate.

“I’m just overwhelmed. It’s the experience of a lifetime that I never thought I would experience,” said Mendoza of her campaign victory, something she never thought would be on her radar at this time in her life.

She credits the win to the support of residents, family and friends “who have known me throughout the years,” and who have come to depend on her to “represent” all residents and businesses.

“I will be a voice for them,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said she ran a campaign of “honesty, transparency and representation of who I am” and is “humble and grateful to the community’s confidence in my efforts and vision.”

Among her priorities: address the response to COVID with residents and business, balance the budget, and maintaining the services residents receive — in particular, getting streets fixed.

Mendoza, who is retired and who previously worked for 42 years at Los Angeles Mission College, said her experience from working with all sorts of levels of administration, faculty, staff, students, public, all demographics, committees “helped me get me to this point, gave me the experience,” as well as “the love for my community and living here my entire life.”

“I represent the residents — that’s the difference. I have an ‘open-door’ policy that they can call me at any time. I’m here to work for them,” she said.

Despite the limitations on campaigning amid COVID-19, which left candidates to primarily use phones, social media, emails, texts, and mail pieces to connect to voters, the turnout at the polls — in part due to the Presidential election — was much better than previous elections.

City elections usually average between 2,000 and 5,000 votes. This time, nearly 9,000 votes had been cast at the close of this edition. In a city that has 12,000 registered voters, this is one of the highest levels of participation in recent city elections.

 However, there were still provisional and outstanding ballots to count. Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office has until December 3 to certify election results.

Montanez returns to Council

That large turnout gave a vote of confidence to the return of Cindy Montanez to the council after nearly 20 years.

At press time she had received 2,647 votes or 29.8 percent of the total, leading a four-person group vying for the two 4-year term seats.

Montanez is the current CEO of nonprofit Tree People and a former City Councilmember from 1999-2002 before being elected to the state Assembly.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Nov. 4, Montanez said she was committed to serving the four years despite speculation she might run for other political offices before her term is up.

“There’s a lot of work that I want to get done, like a vision that needs to be completed,” she said.

That vision includes having a cleaner downtown area and helping attract better shopping, restaurants and entertainment there as well.

Montanez said she wants to get more people involved with those improvements, because “people feel neglected by the City.”

“The residents want a City that pays attention to them. A City Council that works on issues that they care about,” she noted.

She said she’ll put her experience serving at the county and state levels, and having worked with foundations and community organizations, to raise more funds for a City that is facing a budget crunch due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve got more experience, more relationships and know-how on how to bring resources from the outside,” Montanez said.

Fajardo, Rodriguez Vying for Remaining Seat

While Montanez appeared to have her seat secured, current Mayor Joel Fajardo was holding on to a slender 74-vote lead over Celeste Rodriguez for the other four-year term. Rodriguez is City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Deputy Director for Community Development and fiancé to current Councilmember Robert Gonzales.

Fajardo had received 2,271 votes against Rodriguez’ 2,197 votes. Magaly Colelli, the remaining candidate and co-owner of Magaly’s Tamales and Mexican Grill, had garnered 1,767 votes.

Fajardo said he was humbled and honored to have the confidence of the San Fernando community.

“This was a challenging election as an outside group spent roughly $100,000 to distort my record, support my opponents and try to unseat me. At the end of the day, the voters saw through this and reaffirmed their support for me and the progress we have achieved in our City.

“While there are still votes to be counted, I am confident that the trend will remain stable,” the Mayor said.

He said he was committed to “more street and infrastructure repairs, helping residents and businesses impacted by the COVID pandemic, and continuing to beautify our City.”

For her part, Rodriguez said she would wait for the final tally before conceding.

“I am extremely proud of our campaign,” Rodriguez said. “We worked hard to connect with every resident, a challenge during social distancing. I am less than 1% behind the current Mayor and the other top vote getter is a former Assembly person — two politicians with a lot of name recognition.”

Due to this small difference and “out of respect for my supporters, I think I’m going to wait for the final results,” Rodriguez added.

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