The other night, friends directed Maria Santillan-Beas, who's running for a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water District board, to an alarming sight: misogynistic smears directed against her on mariatsantillanbeas.com.
"It’s unfortunate because my mom and dad live in the city of South Gate, I have three grown kids and a husband," Santillan-Beas says. "As a public official I have thick skin, but when the family finds out, it's hard."
The anonymous website shows a cartoonish drawing of a voluptuous woman in a see-through negligée, photoshopped with Santillan-Beas' face. A sign pointing to the bosom in the drawing says "Breast Implants $7,000." It is one of four such signs, the others announcing "Double Chin Lipo $5,000," "Butt Implants $7,000" and "Facelift $7,000."
"As a woman I believe I have the choice of plastic surgery," says Santillan-Beas, a 13-year elected member of the Lynwood City Council, whose term limit is up next year. "Does a man get criticized for having a facelift, or even a penis enlargement? Why the double standard?"
In the illustration, Santillan-Beas is crowned "Lynwood's Queen of Corruption," seated atop a pile of money and crushing the homes and homeowners beneath her. "Maria," the page states, "just how did you get 6 houses worth almost $2 million and all that plastic surgery on your $900-per-month city council salary?"
Below the caricature of Santillan-Beas, the site publishes photos and dollar amounts associated with six houses — three in Lynwood, two in South Gate and one in Pasadena.
Two are in South Gate and one is in Pasadena. "I don't have six homes, I have three homes," Santillan-Beas says. "Two are under my name, and one is under my husband’s. I'm still paying them off. I've worked for Trans American Life Insurance Company for 30 years. My husband has a job, he's worked all his life. My three children all work. The two in South Gate and one in Pasadena, I don't know whose are those other three homes. I wish they were mine, but they're not."
Santillan-Beas says she believes her opponent in the water district race, incumbent Leticia Vasquez, is behind the website and similar attacks on social media in recent days. "I think the incumbent is desperate," she says.
Vasquez denies that she is responsible for the site, telling L.A. Weekly that she is "absolutely not involved" and has heard no information as to who might be responsible. Nevertheless, Vasquez did say of the website that there is "interesting information on there about a lot of money she's taken from a lot of folks."
Vasquez is referring to the archive of campaign-finance reports on the site. The site also has links to uploaded copies of a few lawsuits and complaints involving Santillan-Beas during her 13-year career in public office on the Lynwood City Council.
The image of Santillan-Beas as "Lynwood's Queen of Corruption" cropped up on Facebook on an anonymous page called "Residentes de Lynwood Luchan." Facebook removed the page from its site after supporters of Santillan-Beas reported it as inappropriate.
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State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), who endorses Santillan-Beas for the CBMWP, issued a statement last week on the controversy. "There is no place in our electoral system for the kind of disgusting campaign tactics currently being employed against Maria Santillan-Beas in mail pieces and online."
The five elected members of the Central Basin Municipal Water District set water policy and rates for customers in South Los Angeles. District IV, which Santillan-Beas is running to represent, covers the cities of Lynwood, South Gate, Florence-Gardena, Willowbrook and portions of Compton and Carson.
The Central Basin is still reeling from a report by the state auditor last year that criticized the current board for poor leadership, nonexistent planning and mismanagement of funds. State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblywoman Garcia introduced a bill in August to reform the embattled water district and root out corruption. Santillan-Beas says it was Lara who broached to her the idea that she run for election to the water district.
Santillan-Beas has raised more than $100,000 for her election campaign, more than double the $43,000 raised by her opponent Vasquez.