Sam Crowe, who has been a part of Ontario’s social, political and governmental establishment off and on for more than a half of a century, is seeking to cap his public career with a stint as mayor.
In seeking the city’s highest elected office, Crowe has placed the incumbent mayor, Paul Leon, directly in the crosshairs, basing his campaign on an effort to illustrate the degree to which Leon is out of the mainstream with regard to not only the political orientation and party affiliation of the city’s current population, but ineffective in his function of looking after the interests of his constituents. Leon is at the top of a political hierarchy out of step with the residents of Ontario, Crowe said, promising his candidacy will give the common people of the 175,000 population city a realistic and politically viable alternative.
“I think people are aware of the mayor’s history since his appointment to the city council 19 years ago,” Crowe said. “If not, I will be happy to discuss those issues with anyone. As the result of the mayor’s misdeeds, he lost any influence in the city, and the city has been run by others.”
Crowe alluded to the mayor’s one-time enmity with council members Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman, which resulted in them politically neutering him and trimming his mayor’s pay nine years ago, and then restoring it a little less than three years ago, which Crowe said now places Leon at the end of their leash. Leon, who was appointed to the Ontario City Council in 1999 and then elected in his own right to the council position he held in 2000 and re-elected in 2004, was elected mayor in a special election held in June 2005 to select a replacement for Gary Ovitt, who had been elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2004. Leon outdistanced Crowe in that election, 5,190 votes or 58.29 percent to 3,657votes or 41.08 percent. Leon then cultivated a working relationship with the other members of the city council, who then included Wapner, Jason Anderson, Jerry Dubois and after the 2006 election, Bowman. At that point, Ontario was flush with cash, as it had the largest budget of all of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities, with nearly $600 million running through all of its accounts, including those of its general fund, enterprise funds, its reserves, and its redevelopment agency. Saying that Leon deserved to be recognized and remunerated in accordance with his station, the city council conferred upon him a $30,000 raise in 2007, zooming his compensation to more than $50,000 per year. By 2009, however, the relationship between Leon and both Wapner and Bowman had soured and those two utilized their alliance with Debra Dorst-Porada, who had displaced Leon’s firm and fast ally on the council, Jason Anderson, to take the raise they had given him away. In 2014, when Leon, Bowman and Wapner were up for reelection, they set their political differences aside, and all three campaigned successfully by extolling what a fine job they had collectively done in managing the city’s affairs. The hatchet seemingly buried, Wapner, Bowman and Dorst-Porada voted to restore $33,549 in add-on pay for the mayor to the $25,135 yearly pay provided to all members of the council, bringing Leon’s monetary remuneration to $58,684. As of this year, the council’s members are provided with another $24,683 each in various benefits, so that currently Leon is receiving nearly $83,000 in total compensation per year to serve as mayor. That makes Leon the second highest paid elected municipal official in San Bernardino County, second only to San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, who receives roughly $100,000 in pay and another $30,000 in benefits for something like $130,000 per year in his capacity as mayor in the county seat, where the mayor, under that city’s charter that was put in place in 1905, fulfills a role somewhat akin to that of a city manager in which he has direct authority in the hiring and firing of city personnel, which differs to a considerable degree from the more modest duties performed by Leon in Ontario, which is a general California law city rather than one with its own charter.
“The mayor is loyal to the city council and his salary has not only been restored, he currently is the highest paid general law city mayor in the Inland Empire,” Crowe said. “The Ontario mayor is receiving $82,947 per year for a part time job. Basically, Mayor Leon cannot afford to lose his position. I am running to try to bring some sanity back to the city.”
Crowe said the City of Ontario is in need of political reform, and he will undertake to push those reforms through if he is elected.
Crowe is currently a member of the Ontario-Monclair School Board. He said, “I want to have the city council elected by districts. The current incumbents have very large campaign accounts, making it hard to run against them. District elections would reduce the necessary mail contact candidates must engage in to reach voters and will allow competition. A candidate could actually walk a smaller district. I achieved getting district elections in the school district.”
Continuing, Crowe said, “I want to introduce and pass campaign contribution limits. I want the voters to decide if Ontario should have term limits. I want an ethics code to ensure transparency. It should be illegal to accept large donations and then vote on matters that donor is involved in.”
Crowe was on the Ontario City Council for eight years beginning in 1964 and running through 1972. While on the city council, he served on the Ontario Airport Commission, which ran the airport. He was also a member of the Ontario Planning Committee from 1962 until 1972. He was Ontario’s city attorney from 1976 to 1996. He was Hesperia city attorney from 1998 until 2007. His firm, Covington & Crowe, served as the city attorney in Rancho Cucamonga from the time of that city’s inception in 1977 until 1985. He is on the Travelers’ Aid Board at Ontario Airport and has been on the Casa Colina board of directors for two decades. He has been on the Ontario-Montclair School Board from 2008 to present.
“I have lived in Ontario and been a part of the Ontario culture since 1960,” Crowe said. “I am ready to be mayor.”
Crowe said, “Unlike my opponents, I have specific things I want to do for the city. The current mayor campaigns on the fact that the city is doing well. That is true, but the mayor had little to do with the same. I negotiated the Ontario Mills agreement while city attorney and that agreement brought the City of Ontario into financial security.”
The major issue facing the city is graft at City Hall, Crowe said. “Every surrounding city is aware that the City of Ontario is run for the financial benefit of the individual council members,” he said. “The population has doubled without the growth of city facilities, including the police department. The lack of community involvement is because the council has made no effort to keep the residents informed. I will change that. In addition to the changes I want to accomplish, public involvement is needed. Regular meetings throughout the city will inform the residents.”
The city can easily afford to implement the reforms he is suggesting, Crowe said. “Except for increasing public services and police, the costs for district elections and the cost for term limits will not be a major cost to implement the rest of my proposal,” he said. “These costs will not create a budget problem.”
Crowe said, “I have lived in Ontario from 1960 to present. From 1944 to 1960, I lived in Upland. I attended Upland Elementary School, Upland Junior High School, and Chaffey High School. I graduated from Chaffey High School in 1953.”
Crowe attended UCLA from 1953 to 1957, majoring in prelaw. He attended USC Law School from 1957 to 1960.