DOWNEY — Salvador Franco knows politics are politics. It’s a lesson he learned when he served on the City Council in Bell Gardens, a city with notoriously rough politics known for its nearly constant recall campaigns.
So he’s not surprised when he hears insults come his way from people in Downey who say he’s a carpetbagger or gratifying his own self interest. Franco is running for the at-large Downey City Council seat against attorney and real estate broker Alex Saab, former professional baseball player Gabriel Orozco and attorney Ricardo Perez.
The election is Nov. 6, and the seat is held by Councilman Luis Marquez, who is running in District 1 in the southeast part of the city.
Growing up, Franco moved from Santa Monica to Durango, Mexico to Culver City to Bell Gardens before he married and finally landed in Downey 6 years ago.
He thinks he’s done moving.
“I feel Downey is a safe place,” said the 36-year-old father of two little boys. “I really like it. I would stay here forever. I told my wife I want this to be our home.”
Franco cut his political teeth in Bell Gardens, where he won a City Council seat in 2001 and lost a re-election bid four years later by just 13 votes.
In 2010 Franco was fined by $12,500 for failing to file several campaign finance statements for the 2005 election.
“I made mistakes,” he said. “Back then, I did all the books myself. I’ve learned my lesson and I’ve got a professional handling things this time.”
In Downey, Franco is being backed by the city’s firefighters, who want the City Council to consider disbanding the Downey Fire Department and contracting fire service from the county.
Franco declined to weigh in on the issue other than to say a good City Council member has to look at the data and vote with his head, not his heart.
He also declined to take a stand on the destruction of the Charlotte Von Troesch mural at Downey High School in July by the Downey Unified School District, saying he wasn’t familiar enough with the issue.
Many residents were angry when contractors tore down the mural despite several community members calling for it to be saved and installed elsewhere.
When it came to his tenure in Bell Gardens, Franco was most proud of the refurbishment of Ford Park.
Original plans called for a $2.3 million improvement, but the council ended up spending more than $10 million to build a major sports complex.
None of the money for the park came from the general fund, Franco said.
“We drove to Orange County and all over the place looking at other parks,” he said. “We talked to residents to see what they wanted. At the time, the city did not have a single baseball field. We ended up building two fields at Ford Park.”
During his time on the council, the city also saw the building of two shopping centers and a housing project, he said.
Current Downey City Manager Gil Livas was handling economic development issues for Bell Gardens while Franco was on the City Council.
Franco had high praise for Livas.
“It was a team effort, but he really brought a lot of energy,” Franco said of Livas.
Livas didn’t do a lot of talking, but he got results, Franco said.
“He was about getting his work done,” Franco said.
In Bell Gardens, Franco had his detractors. He supported City Manager Maria Chacon, who was eventually convicted of violating conflict-of-interest laws for engineering her appointment as city manager while she was still on the City Council. Chacon was hired as City Manager before Franco was on the council, but he initially resisted calls to replace her, according to news articles from the time.
Franco’s main income comes from his family’s GDS Institute vocational school in South Gate. He also does consulting, he said.
Franco was born in Santa Monica, but his father got a job offer in Durango, Mexico when Franco was a young child.
The family moved back to the United States when Franco was 14.
“Not knowing English was the hardest part about coming here,” he said. “But that’s life, right? I got by.”
He has a high school diploma and got the rest of his education from “the school of life,” he said.
“I’m not a big talker, but I’m hard worker,” he said. “I think California has a lot of opportunity and promise for people who want to work hard. If you want everything given to you, this isn’t a place for you.”
He said a few residents have asked him what he would do for them if he were to win the seat.
“If you’re talking about promises, you’re talking to the wrong candidate,” he said.
While campaigns are often fueled by big promises, persistence and the ability to work with others are what make for a successful tenure, he said.
“I can come up with 1,000 ideas, but I’ve got to work with four other people who have ideas of their own,” he said.