A woman walks the streets of my neighborhood, Lake Balboa, in the San Fernando Valley. She carries a bunch of colorful, shiny brochures. She walks with measure and calm, moving from house to house leaving one brochure at each home. Electoral material. My wife goes into the yard. A conversation ensues.
She is the mother of Isaac Kim, one of the seven candidates plus one write-in for Los Angeles City Council in the upcoming April 4 election Mrs. Kim welcomes the opportunity to proselytize. She and my wife start a conversation that turns and focuses on the children. Mrs. Kim says that she is proud of her candidate son, that he is responsible, that he is an excellent candidate, that he will fulfill the role perfectly and that more than anything he is a good son.
And she continues on her way.
In this campaign to replace Nury Martínez, who resigned after a racist recording of her and other Latino leaders was leaked, there are many candidates in the 6th District, and, as of now, no favorites.
The elections for the new Council member are anything but ordinary, because of the controversy that triggered the call for a vote. Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León – and Ron Herrera, President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, participated in a racist and bigoted conversation in which they sought to coordinate a common front for the next election. This event exposed the fragility of the relationships between communities of color in our city, and also the internal racism within the Latino community.
Today, to many, the City Council seems like a den of corruption. LA Times reporter Dakota Smith recounts that “One candidate referred to City Hall as L.A.’s Tammany Hall.” She is referring to the corrupt Democratic political machine that dominated New York for more than a century.
This fact especially jeopardized the relationship between African Americans and Latinos in this city.
The revelation embarrassed Latinos in Los Angeles, and unleashed a seldom-seen fury among many Angelenos, especially African-Americans, who saw their fragile alliance with Latinos betrayed. A fury that some consider exaggerated, and lasting too long, as now is “not the time for vendettas.”
The outcome is well known. Gil Cedillo saw his political life ending in ignominy after once being the most prestigious of our leaders for his fight for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Nury Martínez resigned from her position; her political life is certainly over. Herrera also resigned. Kevin de León still clings to his chair, trying to remind us how much he did for Latinos over many years.
With the removal of Martínez and Cedillo and the fight from the rear by De León, the Latino leadership of Los Angeles has been decapitated. This scandal left behind a political vacuum. The downfall entails the loss of decades of experience in local government, knowledge that only time can acquire.
The current electoral campaign to replace Martínez in a district that was left without representation, is in danger of halting that process, as known activists such as former state Assembly member and environmental activist Cindy Montañez, the member of the board of LAUSD, Kelly Gonez, and Angélica María Dueñas, who lost the congressional election to Tony Cárdenas last November refrained from throwing their hats in the ring.
And so, all seven candidates qualifying for the first round are rookies, with little executive experience and no electoral proficiency. Four of them are Latino. There is little information available to help the voter choose among them. It is difficult to differentiate them, to point out the most suitable one for the position. It is difficult to predict which of them will be the future city leader.
This district, which includes Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Panorama City, North Hills, Arleta and Lake Balboa, is the neighborhood where I have lived since 2014.
So what kind of new beginning is it when those leaving are political monuments and those running to replace them mere apprentices?
The candidates – three of whom I have spoken to in recent weeks, Imelda Padilla, Marisa Alcaraz and Marco Santana – impress with their candor, their youth, a sincerity that contrasts with their predecessors. These three are personable and seem very capable. This is a group of young aspirants, representatives of the next generation, who are ambitious and want to serve in important positions.
They are also united by a cold political calculation. Few voters usually participate in the midterm elections. And the more candidates who split the vote, the better. That means that in order to win, they need a fraction of what they normally should get. It happened before, in the same district. Nury Martínez herself won with a total of 5,484 votes, 11% of the electoral volume. In comparison, last November, 44% of LA voters participated in the mayoral elections of Los Angeles.
And so, victory is possible and in sight for each of these three candidates. And the victory of any one of them will bring new blood to the City Council.
All the candidates are interesting Angelenos who have had a taste of public service and want more. I met – via Zoom – with Padilla, Santana and Alcaraz, to find out their positions, to understand their rhetoric, to assess their willingness to deliver for the Latino community, and also their chances of prevailing in a seven-way confrontation. These three are, in my opinion, the best for the community, each one in a specific area in which they excel. And they are also the ones most likely to prevail. The differences of origin, culture, ideology or experience are few. And yes, all three are Latino.
Each of the three insist on their humble origins, on surpassing their parents in their achievements, as the first to attend college and who, after completing their studies, returned to their neighborhood to help others.
The first thing Alcaraz says is that she is a single mom and Latina who was born and raised in the Valley. She has lived here for over 30 years. Her daughter Emma attends kindergarten in Van Nuys. Alcaraz has been working with the council since 2009, now as the deputy chief of staff and environmental policy director for District 9 City Council Member Curren Price. Her work involved helping to develop homeless prevention programs. Alcaraz understands how the city works and is credited with pushing to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Padilla’s parents came here from Jalisco, Mexico. She was born in Van Nuys, the daughter of a factory assembler and a gardener. Padilla, who was a field deputy for Nury Martinez in 2013 and 2014, moves with ease in development plans, numbers and projects, especially around topics of environmental justice issues that she learned with the community group Pacoima Beautiful. Padilla insists that she is the most prepared, thanks to her work as a community organizer with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy” (LAANE). It is her second election attempt. Seven years ago, she unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the L.A. Unified board.
Santana was born to Mexican immigrant parents and raised in the district with his three siblings. Santana displays a deep knowledge of housing issues and community organizing. Santana is the “director of engagement at LA Family Housing, a nonprofit that provides housing to the unhoused.”
All of them want to see more housing built in the district, wherever possible, especially in low-income areas where the problem of overcrowding and high prices is most painful.
Other important questions arise. What about the development of the Van Nuys Airport, where the noise and fumes from private jets makes us sick? How much longer will it take to build the East San Fernando Valley light rail line that will eventually connect the Orange Line with Metrolink at the Sylmar station? Ten years? How to ensure that preparations for the 2028 Olympic Games, where the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area will be a major hub, will not cause more problems for district residents? When will the broken streets and crumbling sidewalks in my neighborhood be taken care of?
Maybe we can differentiate between the candidates considering who supports each one. The endorsement page in Marisa Alcaraz’ website says “Under Construction.” Marco Santana received support from the Los Angeles Times in their March 5 editorial and Padilla has the endorsement of three members of the Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Councilwoman Mónica Rodríguez.
Looks like more important endorsements are still holding out.
Who should win?
The truth is that all those three candidates honor us. Santana, Alcaraz or Padilla will each be a qualified Council member and an improvement from Nury Martínez. I wish them more than luck. I wish they retain the naivety, sincerity and energy of youth. Because we need them as they are now.
In the event that none of the candidates wins the majority plus one of the votes, there will be a second round between the first two, on June 27.