Pasadena Mayor Used City Resources to Campaign For Prop 1, Anti-Hispanic Charter Amendment

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Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, Champion of Decreasing Hispanic Representation

Mayor Johnny Isbell appears to be doing all he can to make his legacy in Pasadena end on a sour note of discrimination and intolerance.

Isbell is the driving force behind a controversial charter amendment that would change Pasadena's municipal redistricting scheme from eight single-member districts and one at-large mayor to six districts, two at-large seats, and an at-large mayor.

Such a scheme would have been prevented by the Voting Rights Act because of its retrogressive effect on Hispanic voting power in the city. However, because Section 3 of the VRA was tossed by the Supreme Court, there is no “pre-clearance” for Isbell's disenfranchisement effort.

The move is clearly a reaction to Pasadena's growing Hispanic population, which has increased from 48.2% in 2000 to 62.2% in 2010. Pasadena even has two Hispanic city council members, and Isbell himself faced a Hispanic challenger in his last campaign who ran on a platform of poor levels of services to the Hispanic areas of the city.

Now it appears that Isbell may be using City workers and funds to campaign for the ordinance. It's ethically problematic at best and a potential ethics violation at worse.

Read on for more.When a member of a homeowners association got a call from Karen Hollon, a City of Pasadena employee who works with neighborhood groups, she assumed it was a meet and greet and not a political event. However, when Blanca Gracia showed up, it was clear that the event was intended to promote passage of Pasadena's charter amendments 1 through 4, including Prop 1, the retrogressive redistricting scheme.

From The Pasadena Citizen:

At Tuesday's meeting, Gracia addressed the Mayor and council; “When we got to the meeting, it was not a board social, it was a political propaganda. I really did not appreciate for the three councilmen and you, Mayor, to go up and speak about 'Please pass Propositions One through Four and vote yes.' It is very unprofessional, unethical and probably illegal in many ways. I hope you didn't use city money to pay for that event because then it would be illegal.”

Isbell told Gracia after the Tuesday night council meeting that he paid for the event.

On Friday, he told The Pasadena Citizen that funding for the event came from a group supporting the Charter Amendments.

If this was a privately funded campaign event why was a city staffer using city resources to invite homeowners association members to the event?

At the meeting, Council Member Steve Cote also told those in attendance, “If we don't pass these propositions, our city will turn blue.”

That's just sad and shameful — Cote is using demographic change and increased diversity as a scare tactic to encourage voters to harm the representative nature of their municipal government.



Cote now “regrets” making such remarks. Really?! He “regrets” suggesting in a public forum that if Hispanic voters are not disenfranchised and given less representation, Pasadena will turn “Blue?” One can only hope that the backwards bigotry espoused by his remarks, Isbell's charter amendment effort, and Prop 1 itself will persuade enough residents of Pasadena to vote NO on Proposition 1.  

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About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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