11:36 PM PST on Tuesday, February 23, 2010

By GENE GHIOTTO
The Press-Enterprise

An effort to remove Lake Elsinore Councilman Thomas Buckley from office failed Tuesday night.

With all precincts counted, just over 56 percent of the city’s voters rejected a recall effort.

“It’s a victory for the city,” Buckley said in a phone interview. “I understand my imperfection. But the people of the city understand this was about more than me. This was about being able to keep going forward and not giving into intimidation and lies.”

City residents were asked to decide whether to recall Buckley and, if the recall succeeded, which of the three other people on the ballot should replace him.

The candidates were Steve Manos, a real estate broker and a member of the Citizens Corps; Jimmy Flores, a local restaurateur and Planning Commission chairman; and Phil Mendoza, an Orange County deputy sheriff and Planning Commission member.

Manos, the only candidate who said he supported the recall, won the highest total.

Manos said he believes recent law-enforcement raids at the homes of recall backers had an effect on the race.

“The street vote was influenced by the recent activity involving the recall committee,” Manos said in a phone interview from the Riverside County registrar’s office while votes were being counted. “I’m disappointed that the emphasis was on the recall proponents and not the activities of the councilman.”

Two favored him

Flores and Mendoza had said before the election that they did not support the recall effort, but thought they were qualified to replace Buckley if the recall succeeded.

Buckley waited for election results at the home of Michael and Mary Bredlau, surrounded by 30 or so supporters who attended the gathering in the Country Club Heights area of the city. Backers of the two-term councilman were clustered in groups and chatted as they waited for results.

Occasionally, Buckley would check the registrar’s Web site for updated election results.

After the final tallies were posted about 10:45 p.m., the crowd began celebrating, and Buckley thanked his supporters.

Recall proponents accused Buckley of arranging the city Redevelopment Agency’s purchase of land from one of his campaign supporters at nearly double the price the real estate investment firm paid for the land. Buckley denies any wrongdoing.

Buckley has said the recall effort is based on fraud and lies. He accused recall backers of campaign-finance fraud, money laundering and illegally using noncity residents to collect signatures on the recall petitions. He also has accused Michel Knight, owner of Trevi Entertainment Center, of illegally funding the recall.

Enelida Caron, who led the Committee to Recall Thomas Buckley, denied the accusations. The committee disbanded last year after the recall qualified for the ballot. Caron moved to Florida this month.

The Riverside County district attorney’s office is investigating whether any crimes were committed during the recall campaign.

Voters speak

About two dozen voters cast ballots during a 90-minute period Tuesday afternoon at the Lake Elsinore Public Library and the Tuscany Hills Recreation Center. Those who responded to a reporter all said they voted against the recall and gave various reasons for doing so.

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