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Name Game in Huntington Park

{mosimage}With a city election a month away, the name John Noguez is on the tip of many Huntington Park residents’ tongues, as the incumbent mayor is running for re-election.

But public records regarding John Noguez, as well as complaints from two City Council candidates who oppose the rising Democratic political star, have unveiled an odd, and even foreboding, controversy as the election approaches in this working-class suburb seven miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Documents obtained by the L.A. Weekly show that John Noguez is not the incumbent mayor’s birth name. Nor is his other frequently used name, Juan Noguez.

Moreover, according to a Huntington Park Police Department crime report, also obtained by the Weekly, one of the candidates who complained to city officials about Noguez running under an assumed name was recently threatened on the street. Huntington Park Detective Sergeant John Navarette confirmed the ongoing investigation of a “terrorist threat” directed at City Council candidate Efren Martinez, a 26-year-old U.S. Marine reservist recently deployed to Somalia, who is making his second run at elected office.

On January 2, 2007, a letter from lawyer Jeffrey Sklan to Huntington Park City Clerk Rosanna Ramirez, and obtained by the Weekly, stated that Martinez and running mate Linda Guevara “may be adversely affected by the failure to timely resolve this issue” of Noguez’s use of multiple names. Sklan, representing Martinez and Guevara on a pro bono basis, asked for an expedited review of an earlier request by Guevara to disqualify Noguez from the election for violating a state law prohibiting politicians from using fictitious names when running for office.

Three weeks later, on January 24, candidate Martinez was threatened, according to the Huntington Park Police Department crime report, while walking on Stafford Avenue at about 7 p.m. According to the report, Martinez was approached from behind and confronted by a man with a thick mustache and heavy eyebrows wearing a black blazer and slacks while two other similarly dressed men stood behind the first suspect.



The suspect grabbed Martinez, pushed him against a wall and said, “Whatever you’re doing with John Noguez, let it go,” the police report states. The three men got into a black luxury car, driven by a fourth suspect, and drove off. The report states that Martinez took the incident as a threat after one of the men stated that they were serious. Martinez, who lost his bid for council in 2005, declined to comment on the alleged threat.

So just who is Mayor John Noguez, or Juan Noguez, or Juan Renaldo Rodriguez, which is the name recorded by the Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder on the Huntington Park mayor’s birth certificate? (He also now uses a different spelling for his middle name, Reynaldo.)

In California’s Democratic farm system, which has helped graduate aspiring local city leaders to Sacramento, and sometimes Washington, D.C., Noguez is known as a comer. Charming, handsome and an accomplished fund-raiser, he has been endorsed by L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and state Senator Ron Calderon. “We have a good relationship with him,” says Molina’s chief of staff, Miguel Santana, citing Noguez’s charisma, substance and vision as key attributes.

Noguez began his career in the L.A. County Assessor’s Office and is considered the county’s top specialist in appraising architectural landmarks in downtown

Los Angeles’ Historic Core. Noguez also is the president of the League of California Cities Los Angeles Division. He was first elected in 2003 to the Huntington Park City Council, which voted him in as mayor in 2005.

According to Noguez’s Web site, which identifies him as Juan “John” Noguez, he was born Juan Reynaldo Rodriguez Noguez, at Kaiser Hospital in Hollywood. While attending Roosevelt High School, the Web site says, his homeroom had 13 other students named Juan Rodriguez, so he adopted his nickname, John. As for the name Noguez, he says he adopted his mother’s maiden name because she raised him without the help of his natural father, as she eked out a living as a maid. “This is a very personal issue for me,” Noguez told the Weekly. “Growing up in a community that assumes you are a bastard child, I wanted to pay homage to my mother,” who, he says, after investing her savings, left him an “empire of apartment buildings.”

But the name Noguez does not appear on his birth certificate, which states that Juan Renaldo Rodriguez was born on November 29, 1964, to Jesus Rodriguez, a gardener from Mexico, and to Carmen Anaya, also from Mexico.

While his birth certificate identifies him clearly as Juan Renaldo Rodriguez, he has used the two first names, John and Juan, at different times and for different purposes. Often, he signs as Juan R. Noguez, as he did on the affidavit and nominating papers he filed in 2006 to run for re-election.

He used Juan “John” R. Noguez on his statement of economic interests that same year. However, he is registered to vote as John R. Noguez, and for business statements and property deeds reviewed by the Weekly, he is listed as John Noguez.

Once, he also rejected the first name John. In a 2005 lawsuit arising from a property dispute, his mother, listed in court documents as Maria Carmen Anaya Noguez, and his brother, listed as Henry Rodriguez, sued him as John Noguez. In response to the lawsuit, Noguez’s attorney filed papers in court stating that Juan R. Noguez was “sued erroneously as John Noguez.”

Because John is the English version of Juan, and because Mexican-Americans often adopt their mothers’ maiden names, it might be that Juan Rodriguez became Juan Noguez, then became John Noguez.

According to Sklan, Los Angeles County court records contain no evidence that Noguez ever legally changed his name. The Weekly also was unable to locate any records in which he has legally changed his name to either John Noguez or Juan Noguez. Citing the possibility of litigation, Noguez declined to provide documentation to show that he has legally changed his name.

California election law states that a person who intentionally uses a fictitious name for a nomination petition is guilty of a felony, punishable by up to three years in state prison. County election officials say a candidate may run for office under an adopted name — if the person legally changes his or her birth name, which requires going to court, as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did when he got married and changed his last name from Villar.

A spokesman for the California secretary of state, Evan Goldberg, says a person need not legally change his or her name to use a name on the ballot that’s not on their birth certificate — if they commonly use the adopted name with no intent to defraud anyone. But, he added, that’s typically applied to altered first names: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case of someone using a different last name.” Huntington Park has had its share of political controversy. One involved Guevara herself, who served on the council from 1997 to 2002, when she was found guilty of filing a false address for city elections. Guevara claimed she lived in Huntington Park, but the L.A. District Attorney’s Office said she lived in Downey. After a Los Angeles judge revoked her sentence last spring, she became eligible to run for election again. In 2005, former Councilman Ed Escareno pleaded guilty to grand theft while in office. Escareno was Noguez’s campaign manager in Noguez’s run for City Council in 2003.

As for residency, Noguez filed two business-name statements, in 2000 and 2005, listing a commercial property in Montebello as his residence address, the latter while holding office in Huntington Park. He bought a house in Huntington Park in 2003, about six months after being elected to City Council. He told the Weekly it was a repeated mistake.

On Monday, Huntington Park City Clerk Rosanna Ramirez told the Weekly she was not concerned about Noguez’s name issues. She said election-law specialists at the law firm Burke Williams & Sorenson agreed.

However, Sklan, the attorney for Noguez’s opponents, said the issue is not so simple. “The city is choosing to ignore the larger issue, which is that Noguez is not the mayor’s legal name. Which calls into question orders he has signed as mayor, and countless votes he has cast as a councilman. It would be reckless of the city to not thoroughly investigate this matter.”

Noguez scoffs, “The people can re-elect me or not, I’ll be Noguez until the day I die.” As for the threats allegedly made to his opponent, Noguez says, “Maybe he needs counseling. Or to take a lie-detector test. I don’t surround myself with criminals.”