In a strange turn of events, San Fernando City Councilmembers Celeste Rodriguez and Mary Mendoza were elected as mayor and vice mayor respectively, Monday night after the initial pick for mayor did a turn-about and refused to take it.
In a special meeting on Dec. 12, the City Council met to certify the results from the recent midterm election and swear in the three winners: Mendoza, Joel Fajardo and Mary Solorio. Fajardo had previously been a councilmember for eight years before losing in 2020, while Solorio is a newcomer to the City Council.
After the three took their seats on the council dais, they moved to the business of choosing the next mayor and vice mayor. Fajardo nominated Cindy Montañez for mayor, for which she received unanimous support.
The vote for vice mayor was more contested between Mendoza and Rodriguez, with the former winning by a 3-2 vote.
However, just as it seemed City Council business had been settled, Montañez suddenly expressed her reluctance to be mayor, instead suggesting that Rodriguez would be better suited for the position.
“If Celeste, if you want to be mayor, I am willing to have you … and Mary Mendoza work together as our mayor and vice mayor,” Montañez said. “I really do want us to work together and be united.”
It is not clear why Montañez turned down the position, but rumors have already begun swirling as to the reason. Members of the crowd later joked that Montañez was the city’s first “five-minute mayor.”
Although she said she wanted the council to be united, the effect of Montañez’s decision seemed to create anything but. Fajardo and Mendoza pointed out that she already had unanimous support for mayor, but Montañez stayed firm with her decision. Meanwhile, Solorio was in support of Rodriguez becoming mayor.
Fajardo was critical over Rodriguez being mayor, saying that she has shown a lack of support for the San Fernando Police Department and voted on matters that should have been a conflict of interest. He attempted to nominate Mendoza to continue her role as mayor, but she turned it down.
“In addition to that, many people have commented that [Rodriguez’s] attendance has been a very big issue, either missing meetings or regularly coming late or leaving early,” Fajardo said. “We need to have consistency in the City Council, we need to have leadership and I know that it’s hard to be here regularly at meetings.
“There are just so many issues that people have brought up to me over the last year, especially door knocking, that it’s hard for me to say in good faith that we should support her as mayor.”
Fajardo’s comments were met with boos from the supporters of Rodriguez in the crowd.
“I appreciate that the community is here and can prove those comments wrong,” Rodriguez responded. “My record speaks for itself … I don’t feel the need to respond to all that. I’m so sorry that you felt the need to come prepared to put me down today.”
Mendoza also commented on Rodriguez’s lateness to regular and special council meetings and asked how she would handle being on time and being mayor when she wasn’t previously for the last two years. Rodriguez responded that she has other obligations, like being a “working mother,” but tried to address those concerns by saying she would make City Council meetings a priority.
With no other nominees, Rodriguez was voted in as mayor. Rodriguez and Mendoza will hold their positions for one year, whereupon the City Council may choose a new mayor and vice mayor.
Before the swearing in of the new members, the two outgoing councilmembers — Sylvia Ballin and Hector Pacheco — gave their farewell speeches.
Ballin had been on the City Council since 2012 and was previously mayor twice. She lost her seat to Solorio by a margin of 143 votes. She expressed her thanks to City Manager Nick Kimball, City Attorney Richard Padilla and San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol Editor Diana Martinez.
“For the 11 plus years that you had me, you had me at pretty much 100 percent, and I’m proud of all that I accomplished,” Ballin said. “I wish all the newly elected and current councilmembers success and always remember, we don’t want our City of San Fernando to become Pottersville [from the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’].”
Pacheco was the City’s vice mayor but chose not to run for reelection. He served for only one term. He talked about the accomplishments achieved while he was on the council, including lowering property tax and raising a multi-million rainy day fund, and thanked his fellow councilmembers.
“I’m looking forward to the new council. I hope we can continue to engender an attitude of collaboration,” Pacheco said. “I think it’s important that you all get along and work together.”
Rodriguez and Montañez will be up for reelection in 2024, while Mendoza, Fajardo and Solorio’s seats will be open for election in 2026.