Ali Saleh, mayor of the city of Bell and Democratic candidate for the California Assembly 63rd district that includes South Gate and Lynwood, answered five questions on why he thinks he is the right candidate for the seat as well how he wants to reform local government.
Patch Latino: How have you used your high-profile position as the new mayor of Bell to create change in your city?
Saleh: Because of Bell’s high profile, there have been countless individuals and experienced professionals that have been more than willing to give Bell a hand at a discounted rate or pro bono. Bell is in a precarious situation; while pushing out the corrupt officials is a big success, the reality is that the [City] Council is not starting with a clean slate. We have inherited a lot of problems, including over $150 million in debt and a lot of lawsuits that are not going away.
These problems could handicap or even bankrupt a city, but luckily we have been able to use Bell’s high profile to engage statewide leaders and innovators in governance. In a small city, you might have one high-caliber professional working, but Bell has been lucky to have more than a dozen high-caliber individuals give their talent to Bell.
Patch Latino: You have been mayor of Bell for just about a year. Why do you wish to pursue a state seat?
Saleh: I am committed to reforming local government. I am intrigued by the idea of taking the local government reforms we are creating in Bell and instituting them statewide. To do so, we will need to institute legislation in Sacramento.
Patch Latino: What do you believe are the 63rd district’s key issues and how do you plan to address them at the state level?
Saleh: Obviously, local job creation, fostering businesses and ensuring adequate funding for education are key needs for our district to advance. But if I’ve learned one thing from Bell [it] is that just as important as jobs creation is creating governments that are ethical, transparent and accessible so that we have a public that trusts its elected officials. Without it, we end up with a stalled government.
For example, Californians support higher taxes for issues like education, but do not trust Sacramento to manage the money. Without both, passing increased taxes for education does not stand a chance. I believe that the solution to rebuilding trust is more of a bottom-up approach. We need to both empower the residents and incentivize ethical and best practices from local elected officials and ensuring that local talent is both cultivated and included in the decision-making process in Sacramento.
Local problems are Sacramento’s problems, and while local governments enjoy jurisdiction privileges, Sacramento holds some big purse strings which should be used to incentivize behavior from local governments.
Patch Latino: You have been referred to as someone with little political experience. What other professional experiences make you a good potential assembly member?
Saleh: I think it is a misconception that I have little political experience. I would argue that I have a different type of experience than Sacramento insiders. And I think the public is eager for some outsiders that are worried about the voters and not the special interests. The reality is that I have been advancing a reformist agenda based on increased ethics, transparency and access to government for a number of years and the successes of BASTA (Bell Association to Stop The Abuse) and the new council and administration for Bell are the fruits of years of experience that is guiding a results-oriented agenda.
Patch Latino: What do you consider to be your biggest success story while serving the municipal government of the city of Bell?
Saleh: The reformist think tank California Forward http://bit.ly/zk85rv recently said of Bell’s reforms, “out of the ashes, a new model of governance is rising — one based on openness and civic engagement. This ensures processes are transparent and leaders are accountable to the people who elected them.” It feels great to know that Bell is not just being innovative with our process to rebuild our city, but that our efforts are being validated by a group as reputable as California Forward.
Watch for future Patch Latino interviews with the other candidates in the California Assembly 63rd district race.