Councilmember Vanessa Delgado has served the city of Montebello since November 2015. A native of East Los Angeles, Councilmember Delgado attended Stanford University, earning a Political Science degree with honors, and then obtained a Master’s of Public Administration at USC as a Dean’s Fellow. She then worked in local government focusing on economic development in the cities of Pico Rivera, Anaheim and Downey. She has participated on a number of boards and Commissions. She serves as a board member on the City of Montebello Oversight Board and is Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ appointee to the Small Craft Harbor Commission (Marina Del Rey). She is licensed as a Green Associate and holds a Real Estate Broker’s License. Councilmember Delgado is currently managing partner for Azure Development, which focuses on public-private partnerships, community outreach campaigns and development agreements.
What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?
My biggest surprise was simply how frustrating compromising can get around projects. I assumed it would be a lot more straightforward to get things done. Even if it’s the best project for a city, it’s a lot slower than I thought—and I had worked in government before. I know things can take a long time. Yet I certainly don’t want that to detract anyone from being excited about being in office, and I’ve only been here for five months. I’m trying to keep my spirits up knowing that every battle I fight and what I accomplish that day will help push things forward substantially. I am not defined by it.
As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?
I had to make a very big compromise and decided not to maintain a fulltime job. As a single mom and also newly elected, it simply wasn’t possible for me to do it all. I also had to start my own company [Azure Development] while in office, which helped me to strengthen my time-management skills and also allowed me more flexibility. I have to actively spend an hour every day to plan for the weeks ahead. I have a color-coded system to keep all the balls in the air. I think as women we feel like we have to be perfect in all of these roles, and I try to talk about this false sense of perfection. I believe in doing the best I can in all of those roles. Some days it means spending more time at home and others, it’s more time at the office. I am very patient with myself about what gets done and what doesn’t. I don’t try to make a home-cooked meal every night, let’s just say that.
Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? Name the person—your campaign manager, your spouse, parent, another political candidate, campaign manager. What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you? What did they teach you?
My campaign manager, Tony Torres. Campaigns are hard, and I don’t know that I could have gone through it and been successful without Tony. He was instrumental with the minutiae of campaigns, fundraising and moral support—he gets the psychology of the negative effect it can have when they do hit pieces on you. He kept me in balance and was instrumental to my success. I’m so thankful.
Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful (what did it do for residents or students) and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?
I’m very proud of completing a project that had been in process for 10 years. With support of staff and my colleagues we achieved a development agreement on our main corridor. Given that my priority is public-private partnerships and this was a city-owned property, as soon as I came onboard I wanted to find out where the agreement was and what needed to be done, but be sensitive to people who had been working on it for so long. I tried to find out the intentions and goals and, given my experience of having done it for 17 years, to find a compromise to help everyone achieve them. We got it approved in the first 3 to 4 months I was in office.
I think I was able to propel this forward because I understand both sides. My career in economic development and now, as a city councilmember, helped me to understand everyone’s needs. We built some good will, too. My colleagues were excited about working together, and I will continue to make sure we’ll have a good relationship. It was a pleasant victory. I want to do it over and over so it’s not a one-off thing.
What was the most memorable day of your life?
Having my daughter, Isabella. I was 25 years old and it was something I didn’t know I wanted. It wasn’t really planned, but my life changed the moment I saw her. It changed the way I looked at life and is the most rewarding thing that has ever happened to me. One reason I am in elected office is so that she sees female role models. When I saw her it made me aware of making the world a better place. I want to give back to my community by helping to transform the community with policy.
If you had to be on one television show, which show would you choose and why?
Not The Voice because I wouldn’t want to force anyone to hear me sing, but I like dancing and I live my life to challenge myself, so I’d say Dancing With the Stars. It’s about how far you can push yourself and what you can accomplish. I like that concept. And dancing sounds fun!
Who will be the next President of the U.S? Who should be the next President?
They’re both the same person—Hillary Clinton. She has the most experience and can truly make the most progress for our country. I would love to have a female president and for every little girl to know she can be president. At the same time, this election has shown us how difficult it is for women in politics—how we look in pictures, what we wear, what we look like, what our perceived likability is rather than our skill set. As a female politician you’re surrounded by men. Normally if you’re strong and powerful and filled with ideas, no one would have negative stereotypes, like they call me. But I’ve learned to be kind and softer now—the old me wasn’t very soft, but unfortunately I have to tailor myself to appear softer, so I won’t be perceived as scary. I could probably get more done if I were more forceful and direct but because of my cultural background and as a woman, I can’t function that way. Yet you can view that as a positive or a detriment, and I choose to view it as an opportunity to set a new standard.
This interview was conducted by freelance writer Mary Ann Marshall.