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Bell city elections: Council donor denies his $60K contribution is 'tea party money'

March 7, 2011 |  4:50 pm

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

A retired Woodland Hills businessman said he donated more than $60,000 to a slate of City Council candidates in Bell to help elect a team of “honest” politicians in a city that has been battered by allegations of public corruption and graft.

But critics, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, contend that Gwilym McGrew is an outsider with no connection to the small, largely Latino city and that his donation represents “tea party money.”

McGrew denies he is a tea party member, though he said he does support the group’s position on healthcare.

McGrew said he became interested in Bell after reading about the high salaries of elected city leaders and administrators in the city last summer.

“I wanted honest candidates to have the opportunity to meet voters and get their message out,” he said.

The council election has been fractious, with candidates in agreement that the city is desperately in need of reform but at odds on how to achieve that.

McGrew's donations went to a slate of three candidates who have been running under the banner Justice for Bell, which has advocated disbanding the police force to help the city steer of possible bankruptcy. One of the Justice for Bell candidates, 34-year-old Miguel Sanchez, died late last week. Sanchez’ name will remain on Wednesday ballot. The other two candidates who received a donation from McGrew are Nestor Valencia and Mario Rivas.

In all, 16 candidates -- many of them political newcomers -- are vying for all five seat on the City Council.

McGrew, who has helped finance other politicians around the country including a Republican Senate candidate in Illinois, said he has not taken a position on whether to disband the police department.

“There’s a lot of smoke and probably some very big fires,” he said of the Police Department. "Should they decide to keep the police, they’re going to have to deal with a very difficult history.”

He said he initially offered campaign money to Danny Harber and Coco Ceja, but both turned him down. Harber is part of a slate of candidates calling itself United for Bell, which is supported by the police union.

The police union said it will spend around $30,000 supporting candidates, as well as an informational campaign to persuade citizens they should save the police force.

[For the record, 9:35 a.m. March 8: An earlier version of this post stated that McGrew had concluded that Bell needed to dump its police force. In fact, McGrew has not stated a position.] 


Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

-- Steve Marble and Christopher Goffard