Gonzales Gunning To Reestablish His Past Colton Political Machine In 21st Century

(September 7) Frank Gonzales, who has already served as an elected official in Colton for over a quarter of a century across two centuries, two millennia,  four decades and three generations, is seeking to return to the mayoralty of the 52,000 population city, capping his political career as the Hub City’s most influential politician.
Gonzales was first elected to the city council in 1972. He was reelected in 1976. In 1978, he successfully ran for mayor. That ushered in the Gonzales regime, as he bettered his perennial political rival Abe Beltran and headed what was then and for the next 16 years Colton’s dominant political machine. The mayor at that time served two-year terms and Gonzales was reelected in 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986, at which point the mayor’s term was increased to four years. He was reelected in 1990.
In 1994, incessant school board candidate George Fulp ran for mayor. Fulp who had never been able to prevail in a school board race, faced long odds in the mayoral contest. Colton was one of the first cities in the state of California where the long dormant Hispanic political giant had awoken. As early as the 1940s, Colton had distinguished itself in this regard by having elected a Latino council member, which at that time was virtually unheard of. Over the years, Hispanics in Colton had flexed their political muscle yet more, as evinced by Gonzales’s firm grip on the city’s scepter.  Fulp, casting about for an effective strategy, knew that longtime Gonzales political rival Abe Beltran could be counted upon to again run for mayor. In a shrewd political move, Fulp purchased Colton resident Jesse Valdivia a pickup truck on the proviso that Valdivia, too, would run for mayor. In this way, with three Latinos in the race, Fulp was banking upon being able to fragment Colton’s Hispanic vote. Moreover, Fulp launched a full frontal attack on Gonzales, casting him as corrupt machine politician who had compromised the integrity of City Hall through the use of political patronage that involved providing jobs to his political cronies and over 30 members of Gonzales’s extended family. The strategy worked, and Fulp eked out a razor thin victory over Gonzales in the 1994 election.
Fulp, a bombastic and alcoholic demagogue, set about dismantling as many elements of the political institution at City Hall long dominated by  Gonzales as he could, making several inroads during the relatively short time he remained in office. Colton, which was the political legacy of would-be railroad baron David Colton, one of California’s more colorful characters from the middle-late-1800s, was among San Bernardino County’s most expansive municipal operations. It was a full service city, boasting its own police and fire departments, water division, sewer division cemetery district, electrical utility, and sanitation division. Fulp seized on the last of these, successfully dissolving the division by convincing a majority of the council to privatize trash and refuse hauling as well as recycling services. The contract went to Taormina Industries, a company that had proven to be a major Fulp political backer. Subsequently, an examination of that chapter of the city’s history was made by former Riverside County deputy prosecutor Mark MacDonald. McDonald concluded that the contract competition had been corruptly skewed in favor of Taormina, involving highly questionable actions including graft that involved Fulp and council members Don Sanders and Abe Beltran. In time, questions about the deal would lead to an investigation by the FBI and the district attorney’s office, the ultimate outcome of which led to Beltran’s and Sanders’ convictions on political corruption charges. Fulp avoided such a fate himself, falling victim to his own excesses before the authorities were able to bring him to account. Drunk with power and whisky, he made a practice of driving around town in his signature Cadillac under the influence, immune from action by the police department, which was unwilling to act against the city’s most powerful political figure. He often arrived at city council meeting inebriated, and his liquor-fueled tirades at his perceived political enemies during those  meetings soured the public on him, including many of his earlier supporters who had seen him as an effective means of breaking the Gonzales political machine. He was ignominiously recalled from office in 1996, two years after he was elected.
Despite Fulp’s dismal political end, the blow he had delivered to Gonzales in 1994 remained in effect for some time. Fulp’s replacement after his recall was Karl Gaytan, not Gonzales. After his defeat by Fulp in 1994, Gonzalez wondered in the political desert for 16 years.
In 2010, a resurgent Gonzales signed on to the political movement that was promoting David Zamora in his effort to unseat then-mayor Kelly Chastain. Zamora had been hired to serve as community development director in Colton while Gonzales was still mayor. Zamora had a rough go of it under Fulp, who had wanted to fire him. Zamora for the most part fared better after Fulp was gone, but by 2009, as the city was staggering financially as a result of the recession that began in 2007, the then-newly arrived city manager, Rod Foster, engaged in a series of bloodlettings at City Hall that cost Zamora, who by that point was able to rely upon a comfortable pension, his job. A coalition was cobbled together that included vestiges of the old Gonzales regime, and Chastain was swept from office and replaced by Zamora. Gonzales too was victorious in his District Two council race. Foster was able to survive the transition, convincing Zamora and the rest of the council that the massive number of layoffs and the demand for salary and benefit concessions from the surviving city employees were necessary given the fiscal reality the city faced. Less than a year after he came into office, Zamora suffered a heart attack and died. He was replaced by his wife, Sara. Sara Zamora is not seeking to remain in office after this year and Gonzales tossed his hat in the ring. He is opposed by former councilman Richard Delarosa.
This week, Gonzales told the Sentinel, “I simply am running because, as you know, two and a half years ago the city was almost $5 million in the hole. We laid off 100 maintenance workers. Our utility bills were sky high. The city was going under. All the businesses were leaving. After I left as mayor in 1994, Kmart left and Albertson’s shut down. The city was full of empty buildings. The city was unkempt. There was a lot of neglect. You could drive around the city and see what was going on. I don’t see any reason for that. If you run the city right, it is a multi-million dollar business. I ran a store for nine years. I am an experienced hand at running my own business and in running the city as mayor. I did it for sixteen years. I do not feel that the city has been run right. We have been paying a lot of money for consultants.”
While there remains a lack of clarity about what the city’s precise financial circumstance now is and vocal critics maintain the city’s general fund is currently running at a substantial deficit and is only being sustained by more than $4 million in borrowing from the city’s enterprise funds, Gonzales asserts that since coming to the council “I did make a difference and I did balance the budget. We had a $2 million reserve within a year after I was elected in 2010. We have built a new senior citizen complex. We are now ahead of our expenditures by $2.2 million. A lot has already been done, but you are not going to have everything happen overnight. That is why I want to be mayor.”
If elected, Gonzales indicated he is looking to even the score with history by reversing Fulp’s legacy of having privatized trash service. “We need to bring all of our services in-house again,” he stated. We should reestablish the city sanitation department. That way we can provide a better service to the taxpayers. Right now the trash is being picked up by an outside entity and you have no control. If you need trash picked up or the street cleaned you have to call out of town and hope the contractor will show up. If we own the trash utility, it will be accountable to us. If the council does not agree and does not want to bring it in-house, then I will push for us to go out to bid on the trash contract  The city gave the contract to Taormina 18 years ago and then Taormina became Republic and we still have the same company. We have to go out to bid, in my opinion, to see whether we can get a better deal. Like I said, I am pushing to bring it in-house, but if that fails then I will insist we go out to bid.”
Gonzales said he is obviously the superior choice in this year’s race for mayor.
“To put it simply, what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong,” he said. “I have the experience. More than anyone, I know how to put it together. I know budgets. All you have to do is be conservative with your budget and not overspend. The city is a nonprofit. All we have to do is make sure our budget is balanced and make sure our employees are made whole so we have a good, healthy working environment for people and a better quality of life. There is no reason, in my opinion, for us to be cutting back on services. We have a cash flow that is unbelievable. We have our own utilities, water, sewer electrical and we should own our trash service once more. There is no reason for us to lay people off as longs as the city is run properly. We can do that by treating the city like a giant household and run it the way you would run your own home, without squandering your resources.”
A Colton native, Gonzales graduated from Colton High School and attended San Bernardino Valley College. While working with Griffith Wheel Company he became a union steward and went on to become the president of AFL-CIO Local 5647, serving in that capacity for 22 years. He is married with four grown children.

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