Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Created: 12/27/2010 08:01:12 PM PST

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – With Don Kurth ducking out of the political limelight this year, it was a game of musical chairs on the City Council. Dennis Michael filled the mayor’s seat and two former councilmen rejoined that body.

But much of the political news this year was overshadowed by the guilty verdict delivered to Rex Gutierrez, the former councilman who is currently serving his sentence of two years and eight months in state prison.

Gutierrez, 51, was sentenced earlier this month in his second trial (a hung jury had declared a mistrial in June). Gutierrez., who served 14 years on the council, was found guilty of four felony counts of grand theft, conspiracy to commit a crime and filing a false claim – charges stemming from his tenure in the San Bernardino County Assessor’s Office.

It was a stunning end to a colorful political career, one supported by a loyal following of residents and marked by memorable controversies. Gutierrez first came to the political scene in 1992 but resigned six years later after conflict of interest allegations surfaced over the way he handled advertising business for his publication Grapevine Press. He was reelected in 2002.

Despite the legal battle over his role in the Assessor’s Office scandal, Gutierrez remained defiant and even pondered a run for Kurth’s open seat. He began publishing his free community newsletter, Vineyard Press, with a Christmas issue delivered a week before his sentencing.

When the guilty verdict was delivered, Gutierrez maintained his innocence.

“I did not deserve what happened today,” Gutierrez said after the verdict was announced. “I know that I didn’t conspire with other people to rob the county of money. It just didn’t happen.”

Considering Gutierrez’s uncertain future in a year when he was up for reelection, the November elections saw a crowded field of 13 candidates.

Michael won the mayoral race and Councilwoman Diane Williams cruised to victory as the top vote-getter. Former Bill Alexander succeeded in his comeback bid, retaking a council seat four years after he lost to Kurth.

That left Michael’s seat open.

Once the new members were sworn in, the council majority decided to appoint Chuck Buquet to fill the remaining two years of Michael’s term. Like Alexander, Buquet is not new to city politics. He served 12 years as councilman in the 1980s and ’90s.

There were many other developments that made local headlines in 2010.

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