10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By IMRAN GHORI
A corruption investigation that has led to the arrest of former San Bernardino County officials is dominating the contest for two supervisorial seats in the June 8 election.
Supervisor Paul Biane has represented the 2nd District since 2002. He faces five challengers.
Supervisor Gary Ovitt, serving the 4th District since 2004, has two opponents. If none of the candidates get more than 50 percent in their race, the top two finishers will face off in a November run-off election.
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Opponents of the two incumbents say Biane and Ovitt have been tarnished by the general investigation into the $102 million county-authorized settlement with Rancho Cucamonga developer Colonies Partners in November 2006. They call for new leadership to restore the county’s reputation.
In February, the district attorney and attorney general charged former county supervisor and assessor Bill Postmus and former assistant assessor Jim Erwin with bribery and conspiracy. They alleged the Colonies settlement was a result of an illegal conspiracy involving extortion and bribes. The developer has denied the allegations.
The indictment also implicates five other figures, including a supervisor and a chief of staff to a supervisor suspected of being part of the conspiracy to approve the settlement. Biane and Mark Kirk, chief of staff to Ovitt, appear to be the two unindicted co-conspirators.
The Colonies settlement was approved on a 3-2 vote with Postmus, Biane and Ovitt in favor.
Ovitt and Biane deny wrongdoing and defend their vote as the right call. Both said they would vote the same today.
“I made the decision that I thought was the best and it was without any undue influence,” Ovitt said.
Biane’s district includes Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Lytle Creek and Crestline.
“I think all of us that are challenging (Biane) have the same top priority and that’s getting ride of the culture of corruption,” said Fontana Councilwoman Janice Rutherford.
Rutherford, 41, and Biane, 46, are past political allies. She joined the race because she said she was disturbed by the latest allegations. Rutherford, a taxpayer liaison for state Board of Equalization member Barbara Alby, touts her record in Fontana over a decade that saw the city double its population.
“Fontana’s budget, image and services have improved dramatically while I’ve been on the council,” Rutherford said.
Arthur Bustamonte, 57, an investigator for the public defender’s office and a member of the Chaffey Joint Union High School District board of trustees for 15 years, said both Biane and Rutherford are too tied to the political establishment and that he represents real change.
“I’m not part of the political apparatus that has a chokehold on the process,” he said.
Greg Warner, 26, who operates a book publishing company, said he brings government-building experience as an Army sergeant who helped with civil projects in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005.
“I got to see all the inner workings of government in its capacity to build and maintain sewers, hospitals, all of the infrastructure that’s involved in a large metropolitan area,” he said.
Peter “Scott” Markovich, 48, and Dennis Labadie, 57, both of Crestline, sound similar campaign themes, accusing Biane of ignoring the small mountain community.
“A lot of our services are being eroded,” said Markovich, a contractor who sits on the Rim of the World School District board.
Labadie, publisher/editor of The Alpenhorn News, said Biane has been a poor leader for the area.
“It’s obvious he doesn’t feel certain areas are important enough for him to be there,” Labadie said.
Biane described his opponents as “political opportunists” who don’t know the real facts of the Colonies case.
He said he’s delivered projects all over his district, including Crestline where a new library and skate park were built.
“I’m very comfortable at what I’ve been able to accomplish with more dollars than’s ever been seen before (in the 2nd district),” Biane said.
So far, Biane has focused his attacks on Rutherford, with a campaign mailer accusing her of being a “big spender,” a characterization she disputes as a distortion of her record.
Ovitt, 63, a former Ontario mayor and councilman, faces two political newcomers in the Fourth District, which includes Ontario, Chino, Chino Hills, and Montclair.
Richard Galvez, 58, a paralegal, describes his lack of political experience as a strength, saying he won’t be influenced by special interests.
“I think the vast majority of my supporters are supporting me because I don’t have the baggage most politicians have when they’re running for office,” Galvez said.
Ron Wall, 64, a health care consultant for nursing homes, said he is troubled that Ovitt has not fired or placed Kirk, his chief of staff, on leave since the allegations were raised.
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