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Candidate for Bell City Council dies days before election

March 5, 2011 |  2:04 pm

Miguel Alejandro Sanchez, a longtime Bell resident and candidate for the City Council,  has died. He was 34.

Sanchez was pronounced dead Friday afternoon from complications of an unknown illness at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, according to the Bell Police Department and friends. Police Capt. Tony Miranda said a sergeant went to his home and confirmed with a relative that he had died around 3 p.m. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the Sanchez family," Miranda said.

Sanchez was running in Bell's special recall election Tuesday and hoped to succeed former councilman Luis Artiga, who resigned last fall amid charges that he and seven other city officials had misappropriated public funds. Sanchez had campaigned alongside resident activists Mario Rivas and Nestor Valencia, members of the "Justice for Bell" slate. "He was very courageous, honest and a very humble person," Rivas said Friday.

A soft-spoken man who wore dark-framed glasses, Sanchez was a part-time teacher's aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was also a part-time parks and recreation employee for the city of Bell. "It's very, very sad," said Interim City Administrative Officer Pedro Carrillo.

Last summer Sanchez was among hundreds of furious residents who demonstrated outside Bell City Hall and demanded the resignations of city officials who were receiving hefty salaries.

In July, the Times reported that the city of about 39,000 was paying its administrators and police chief the largest municipal salaries in the state, if not the country, with former Chief Administrative Officer Robert Rizzo collecting nearly $800,000, and former Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Angela Spaccia making nearly $400,000.

Rizzo and Spaccia and six other former and current council members were arrested and are now facing criminal charges for misappropriating public funds.

Rivas and Valencia said that Sanchez had become very distressed over the tone of the campaign, which had heated up in its final days. The faction had come under fire by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for receiving $60,000 in payments from a retired Woodland Hills businessman. The labor group characterized the donation as "'tea party' money." The donor, Gwilyn McGrew, said that was not the case.

Rivas said that Sanchez told him he wanted to drop out of the race because of the stress. On Monday he complained to Rivas of flu-like symptoms. Over the last few days both Rivas and Valencia said his condition had worsened, but both of them believed Sanchez would recover. "Sanchez was diabetic and I don't know if the pressure from the campaign was too much for him," Rivas said.

"I feel guilty," Valencia said in a quavering voice Friday night. "He told us he didn't want to do this anymore. But I told him he should run because I thought he was a good candidate, and I still think he is."

-- Ruben Vives