Downey looking for a sister that may not exist

DOWNEY – For three years, membersof the Downey Sister City Association have been on a quest.

They want to become a sister city to Downey, Ireland.

There’s a hitch, however.

There may be no Downey, Ireland.

So far, the existence of such a place is as verifiable as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Downey Sister Cities Association President Robert Rubio has been tasked with finding Downey, Ireland.

So far, he’s agnostic.

“I don’t believe there is a Downey, Ireland, but, at this point, I don’t believe there isn’t one either,” he said.

His findings on this Gaelic mystery are to be presented at the association’s monthly meeting on May 10. He has heard from a woman he met at the Sister Cities International convention that there is such a place, but nobody can tell him much more about it.

Downey, Calif. is is named after the pharmacist, land developer, loan shark and California governor that was John G. Downey, who died in 1894. His land company in the 1870s  developed the community that took his name.

Downey emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1842. He was only 14. Soon he was out of school and learning to be an apothecary. He eventually struck it rich in Los Angeles, in part by giving out high-interest loans and then foreclosing when people couldn’t pay. He also was the state’s first foreign-born governor. He gained fame by vetoing a law that would have given rich land owners control over the seaboard in San Francisco. But the state’s complex politics did him in, and he lost re-election. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the second foreign-born governor.

Click here for a sad tale of a man who borrowed from Downey.

Here in California, the city has acquired a recent fondness for its founder. A bust of Downey was installed near City Hall. It’s a replica of a bust installed in Downey’s native county in Ireland, County Roscommon.

As Downey leaders try to connect to the community’s past, they have explored somehow becoming a sister city with an Irish municipality, specifically Downey, Ireland. But no map has such a community. The closest-sounding thing is Rathdowney, which is a about 50 miles south of John G. Downey’s hometown in Ireland.

Sister City organizers may consider partnering with a different community in Ireland.

Back stateside, Downey has five sister cities: Guadalajara, Ensenada, Valle de San Quintin and Fresnillo in Mexico and Alajuela in Costa Rica. The Sister Cities program was started after World War II to build cultural understanding. Downey became the first U.S. city to pair up with a Mexican city when it became a sister city to Guadalajara in 1960.

Due to drug cartel violence in Mexico, many U.S. citizens are less likely to continue to travel to Sister Cities in Mexico, and relationships have suffered.

El Monte-area civic leader Bobby Salcedo was slain in late 2009 while visiting South El Monte’s Sister City of Gomez Palacio, Mexico. Salcedo was active in the South El Monte’s Sister City association and frequently visited Gomez Palacio, where he met his wife. He was likely the target of a drug cartel. The government prosecutor investigating the murder also turned up dead.

And some in Downey have been reticent to visit Sister Cities in Mexico, according to people familiar with the organization.

If Downey were to partner with an Irish city, it would be the first such partnership outside the Americas.

Downey resident Michael Murray, who has been involved in Downey Sister Cities for years, said there has been interest for quite a while about partnering with an Irish city.

“What we would really need to make that happen is seven to 10 people from Downey who are really dedicated to pulling it off,” said Murray, who is also a planning commissioner in Downey.

The Downey Sister Cities Association meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10 at the Knights of Columbus, 11231 Rives Ave.




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