Incumbent Mayor Frank Gurule, Vice Mayor Osvaldo Conde and Councilman Juan Romo were re-elected by a narrow margin in Cudahy Tuesday amid light voter turnout and signs of irregularities at the polls.

Unofficial results show that challengers Danny Cota and Luis Garcia, former city employees who mounted a grassroots campaign, failed to unseat Conde by 36 and 33 votes respectively, according to Cudahy City Clerk Larry Galvan.

Cudahy, a 1.2-square-mile city 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, has not had an election since 1999. With a population of 28,000 mostly Mexican immigrants, only 4,836 residents are registered to vote, and city records show that less than 1,000 actually voted.

Some residents observed irregularities, with former City Councilwoman Araceli Gonzalez saying she had concerns about the separation of ballots with hanging chads, and whether voters were properly instructed on casting provisional ballots. One vote counter was punching “a hanging chad through with a pencil,” said Gonzalez. “I didn’t feel comfortable with the counting procedures.”

Cudahy voters also encountered discouraging conditions, according to numerous sources who insisted on anonymity, including perceived gang members milling near the polls and Hummer limousines ferrying certain voters to the polls. “There’s a feeling of intimidation,” one former Cudahy resident, whose family voted, told the L.A. Weekly. “People are afraid to vote, and they are afraid that someone might know who they voted for.”

Cudahy has a history of gang and drug activity, according to local and federal law enforcement sources, police statistics and court records. (See “The Town the Law Forgot,” February 23, 2007.) In December, the election campaign was marred by alleged criminal threats against a challenger who later dropped out. A dominant theme, according to dozens of Cudahy residents, employees, former employees and former officials interviewed by the Weekly, is one of fear.

Another issue possibly on the minds of residents is the police. In 2003, after firing the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Cudahy City Manager George Perez hired the Maywood Police Department on a $2 million-a-year contract. Perez also hired Maywood Club Towing to work with the police on impounding vehicles.

Recently the Maywood-Cudahy Police Department was accused of civil rights violations, and Maywood Club Towing was accused of paying kickbacks to police and Maywood City Council members. District Attorney Steve Cooley and the FBI are investigating, and state Attorney General Jerry Brown is conducting a civil review. Cudahy Mayor Frank Gurule and City Manager George Perez say the investigation has nothing to do with Cudahy.

LA Weekly