By Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.
Even though some would rather forget what happened the last time we had an election, in less than one week voters across Los Angeles County will head to the polls to vote on key seats. On March 6, the Consolidated Municipal and Special Elections take place, the results determining who will sit on city councils and take mayoral seats, or who will have to campaign in a runoff if nobody receives the majority of votes. This is democracy at work.
But since we’re living in Trump’s America now, has the tumult and disruption of national politics filtered down to the municipal level? Are candidates changing tactics or messaging due to the meanness and acrimony we are being subjected to on an almost daily basis? What kind of citizens are putting themselves on the line, convincing voters that they have what it takes to lead?
We reached out to several candidates, all who have never held office before, to give us insight on why they are running, what kind of policy-makers they hope to be, how the most recent election impacted their own campaigns, and how that election has affected the community they are fighting to represent.
Emma Ramirez is a candidate for San Dimas City Council, running for one of two open seats. It’s the retired LAPD sergeant’s first run for office, one she attributes directly to the last election. “I think the November election was a big eye opener. It showed that one person can make a difference; one person’s quest to do it against all odds. That gave me the courage to run,” she says.
For South Gate City Council candidate Alfonso Rios, presently an administrator at East LA City College, the trigger for his campaign was the fact that no one ran for a seat in the South Gate’s municipal election in 2015. “With a city of almost 100,000, that’s just not right,” he says. Now, he’s one of nine candidates running for two seats.
Monica Rodriguez, council candidate for the City of L.A.’s District 7, located in Northeast San Fernando Valley, ran for that same seat in 2007. Her reasoning for running again is direct: “I’ve lived in the district my entire life. I was raised here, went to all the schools. I’ve worked here. And I am best prepared to lead the community.”
An also-ran in last year’s Presidential election inspired Susana Lopez to run for one of two city council seats in Bell. Says the immigration advocate, “I’m running after witnessing Bernie Sanders’ progressive movement. It was my biggest motivation.”
Jorge Nuño’s blunt assessment for his decision to represent L.A. City Council District 9, which stretches from downtown to just north of Watts, is personal: “I cannot allow my two young boys to live under the same conditions of crime, neglect, and poverty like I have for the past 40 years.”
As to what style of policymakers they envision themselves to be, there’s almost complete unanimity: They aim to ensure that their constituents have a voice. Nuño plans on creating a body of committees, asserting, “I want those committees to incubate their ideas of the vision for south L.A. and I will be there to lead them.” Lopez, too, envisions constant contact with the people in her community: “I want to have an open door policy. I want to be known as a team player that bring results.” And Rodriguez, who previously worked in L.A. City Councilmember Mike Hernandez’s staff, agrees, “We need to go back to being accessible, to be on-the-street local leaders.”
The elephant in the room in all these campaigns, of course is the shocking presidential election that resulted in near constant tumult since Inauguration Day. San Dimas City Council candidate Ramirez senses the strong message sent by millions of disaffected citizens: “People want change; they’re tired of the status quo. Voters want to take a chance on candidates who are willing to take a chance.” South Gate Council Candidate Rios also senses the frustration, but aims to ease the tension. “So much divides us in our society. We’re not listening to each other. We need to break through that. We need to bridge differences,” he says.
If anything, Trump’s election gave these candidates more of a reason to run. Says Rodriguez, the candidate for L.A.’s 7th District seat, “My decision to run came long in advance of that outcome, but I’ll tell you, it’s amazing to me to see how people are willing to consider people who have no concept of how government runs. Look at last 31 days! It feels that we are going backwards.”
The executive orders, tweets, and policy proposals put forth since January have had a palpable effect on the residents of the communities these candidates hope to serve. Says Rodriguez, “People are fearful. There is anxiety of families being split up. It’s important to reassure people on a local level, to make sure we provide the security of local government.” “Trump’s Executive Order has brought a lot of fear, and nobody knows where we are going. That’s why I hope my message of bridging differences is resonating,” says Rios. Adds Nuño, “There’s definitely uncertainty within families of voters that include undocumented immigrants. If anything, it has shown the younger generation that elections do matter.”
A key takeaway from the last election, and possibly for races moving forward, is that politics isn’t for the faint of heart, but the one sure way to affect change.
“Some people are talking about hit pieces. I say, let’s stay focused. The key is that what I say I am going to do, I’ve been doing all along,” says Rios of South Gate. Adds Ramirez of San Dimas, “I mentally prepared myself that not everybody is going be glad that I am running. I am like an ant in the world of politics, but like Emiliano Zapata said, ‘It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.’”
Find out more about these candidates at:
Susana Lopez, Council Candidate, city of Bell
Abelardo de la Peña, Jr. documents, analyzes and provides insights on U.S. Latino issues and culture.