By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Even before it became front-page news, there were whispers in San Fernando about Hernandez and De La Torre, at least since the pair was spotted canoodling at the town's Christmas tree–lighting ceremony a year before. Councilwoman Ballin had heard the rumors, but she brushed them off. "In this town, everybody talks about everybody," she says.
But last November, Hernandez removed what little doubt existed when he announced the affair at a public meeting. When he made the declaration, he blamed Aszkenazy — both his landlord and the publisher of the town's newspaper of record — for pushing his hand.
"Mr. Aszkenazy has made it his business to put my business out there," Hernandez told the assembly. "It is true that I did lose my business, I did have to file personal bankruptcy and I did have to file corporate bankruptcy."
One month earlier, Aszkenazy had evicted Hernandez's UPS Store from Library Plaza for being late on his rent. (Bankruptcy records show that Hernandez owed $24,500 in back rent.)
Hernandez continued: "Secondly, I'd like to put it out there, to squash the rumors, that, yes, I have been in a relationship with council member De La Torre."
From the dais, Hernandez suggested Aszkenazy drove him into bankruptcy as payback for refusing to throw his political weight behind Aszkenazy's projects.
Of course, there was also the incidental detail that Aszkenazy's wife, Martha, is the sister of Hernandez's wife, Anna Diaz, on whom he was cheating.
Just after the mayor copped to the affair, Anna Diaz stood up in the front row to announce that she and her husband were not separated when he'd begun his relationship with De La Torre.
The words had barely escaped her lips when Hernandez directed police to have his wife removed from the meeting.
Sev Aszkenazy says that he bought the San Fernando Valley Sun because every time San Fernando was in the news, it was for something negative — and all that bad press made it hard to do business. He wanted to tell the good stories about San Fernando.
Things turned out slightly differently than he'd planned.
Walking into Aszkenazy's office for a scheduled interview earlier this summer, I was surprised to be greeted by not just him but his wife as well. Martha Diaz Aszkenazy smiled as she explained that the couple was more than happy to provide background information for this piece but would prefer not to be quoted in the story.
As businesspeople, she explained, they had a reputation to maintain and did not wish to be associated with the scandal in San Fernando. They were stakeholders in the city, of course, but not part of the story.
So what about Mario Hernandez's public accusation that Aszkenazy pushed him to reveal his affair with Councilwoman De La Torre? Hernandez did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did De La Torre. And the Aszkenazys didn't waver from their unwillingness to talk on the record, even though I tried again.
But there is plausible reason for Mario Hernandez to suggest he might be the target of political retaliation from the couple. The roots of his suspicion might well trace back to the 2008 recall, the Aszkenazys and the Sun. What happened at that time shows not only the extent of the Aszkenazys' clout but also just how complicated things can get when the biggest developer in town also owns the newspaper of record.
Back in 2003, the Sun published a series of stories exposing mismanagement at the Latin America Civic Association, which administered money for the local Head Start program.
The three-part investigation earned the paper a New California Media Award; also as a result of the exposé, the organization, run by a friend of then-mayor Jose Hernandez (no relation to Mario Hernandez), lost nearly $11 million of federal funding.
Soon after that, Aszkenazy, who'd long enjoyed support for his developments, began to encounter council opposition. In 2005, a liquor license for the steakhouse he planned to open in San Fernando was denied.
Aszkenazy sued. But he didn't allege that he was being retaliated against for his newspaper's exposé. He claimed that he was denied the permit because of anti-Semitic discrimination. Jose Pulido, then-city administrator, testified that Jose Hernandez once remarked to him of Aszkenazy, "He's being greedy. He's Jewish, you know."
Hernandez vehemently denied the accusation, but Aszkenazy prevailed. The City of San Fernando ended up paying the developer $750,000.
The Sun's exposé may have been the end of Aszkenazy's cozy relationship with the sitting council, but the lawsuit also proved the end of Jose Hernandez's political career. Citing the slur and costly settlement as their primary motivation, about a dozen residents gathered the 1,771 signatures necessary to hold a recall election.
The Sun threw its considerable weight behind the recall. (The Jewish Journal reported that Aszkenazy accused the targeted members of having an "anything but Aszkenazy" outlook. "In its articles, as well as its editorials," the Journal reported, "the Sun regularly condemns the three council members who oppose Aszkenazy. A recent issue ran an editorial calling them 'despicable,' 'self-serving' and 'hypocritical.' ")
So in January 2009, Jose Hernandez, a former college professor and member of the council for 15 years, and fellow council member Julie Ruelas (no relation to Tony Ruelas), also a college professor and council veteran, were removed from their City Council seats. Brenda Esqueda, a medical receptionist with no previous political experience, who helped spearhead the recall effort, was swept into office.
It would be funny if it wasn't such an outrage. In defense of the current councilmembers, San Fernando city government ineptitude is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, city leaders have either been nasty or dumb as lampposts. This trio seems to be both nasty and dumb, which is why it's newsworthy.
I grew up in this town in the pre-Ashkenazy days when it may as well have been an outpost in the old West. Many young people left after finishing high school/college to move to communities where it wasn't so difficult to see a movie and have a craft beer on a Friday night, neighborhoods with a bookstore or a restaurant with vegan menu options. I'm sure that sounds like snobbery, but I'd rather be a snob than be stir-crazy from isolation. The town's chief characteristic is a strange combination of provincialism, nimbyism, and insularity from the rest of Los Angeles. There have been some upgrades in the last decade, chiefly Library Square, and I'm happy to hear that the Sun now does more than publish legal notices and grip-and-grin photos of Chamber of Commerce execs. Perhaps this recall election and JC Penney finally giving up the ghost are golden opportunities to shake off the cobwebs and tumbleweeds collecting around the rest of the city.
why did thishappen between two elected officials? it's nature and nurture (underdeveloped frontal lobes and high school memories lost).
At Brian Arra. I don't think you have actually seen her in person have you? Cause she is not hot at all. Don't go by the picture on this magazine or the google images. This article made DeLa Torre and Barajas look hot!! But if you look at them in person one of them looks like the chilindrina and the other like... Well.... De La Torre
The owners of the San Fernando Valley Sun Newspaper, Sev and Martha Aszkenazy are in foreclosure and jeapordizing San Fernando's livelihood.
TWO MAJOR PROPERTIES ARE IN FORECLOSURE AND SET FOR AUCTION SALE ON OCTOBER 31ST AT 9AM IN POMONA!
Check it out for yourself.
Look at properties that are in foreclosure and up for sale!
#F12-00066 120 N. Maclay Ave
#F12-00091 1030 Pico Street