Becerra's Vacant Congressional Seat Draws 23 Candidates

Left - right: Jimmy Gómez, Wendy Carrillo, María Cabildo and Arturo Carmona

By Abel Salas

With the appointment of former Congressman Xavier Becerra to a post as the California State Attorney General, the seat he leaves vacant has drawn a crowded field of congressional contenders. A contest in which no clear front-runner has emerged from among the 23 Washington D.C. hopefuls seeking to replace Becerra in the 34th U.S. Congressional District, the race is as much about redefining the soul of Latino leadership in Los Angeles as it is about effective fundraising and the community-building required to generate enough ground-level campaign momentum between now and the April 4th special primary election. The top two primary candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on the ballot in the general election on June 6th, 2017.

In what might be best described as a densely populated political fray, the 23 candidates represent a broad swath of experience, leadership styles and policy agenda priorities. Of the nearly two dozen aspirants, 19 have been, for most of their adult lives, active Democrats who identify strongly with the progressive wing of the party. Three are third party or independent candidates, and one is running as a Republican. Several have publicly acknowledged that they have been galvanized by the unexpected Trump presidency, which they feel was foisted on a hapless and bewildered electorate and hope to challenge if successfully elected to Congress.

Among those who have filed to run as candidates are: State Assemblyman (CA-51) Jimmy Gómez; immigrant rights advocate, labor activist and journalist Wendy Carrillo; former staffer to L.A. Councilmember José Huizar and Coro Southern California Director Sara Hernandez; Bernie Sanders Deputy Political Director Arturo Carmona; former LAUSD Boardmember Yolie Flores; L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Steven Mac; former White House communications staffer Alejandra Campoverdi; SEIU Local 721 union organizer Raymond Meza; public affairs consultant as well as former Sacramento and DC staffer Vanessa Aramayo; and East LA Community Corp. co-founder, economic development officer, affordable housing visionary, and urban planning executive turned director of L.A. County Homeless Initiatives Maria Cabildo.

Running as well, although perhaps not as familiar to those in the traditionally Mexican American and Latino Eastside, are: business and non-profit consultant Tenaya Wallace; political campaign director and real estate developer Ricardo De La Fuente; JPL aerospace engineer Tracy Van Houten; L.A. Planning Commissioner and attorney Robert Lee Ahn, community activist and former U.S. Congressional candidate Adrienne Nicole Edwards; filmmaker-producer Melissa Garza; former Republican and Long Beach Congressional candidate Armando Sotomayor; attorney Richard Joseph Sullivan; L.A. City Program Manager and former union organizer Sandra Mendoza; property manager and persistent political gadfly-candidate William Morrison; Libertarian paralegal Angela McArdle; professional accountant Kenneth Mejia; and former religious educator who now runs a law officer Mark Edward Padilla.

A graduate of UCLA and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Jimmy Gómez recently picked up an endorsement from the California Democratic Party. A member of the California State Assembly since 2012, he has served on the Health, Transportation, Labor & Employment, and Water, Park & Wildlife committees. In 2015, he chaired the Assembly Appropriations committee.

As the party standard bearer, Gómez becomes the anointed next-in-line recipient of the Democratic party blessing handed down through the not-so-secret Mexican American boys club referred to in its long gone glory days with awe and admiration as the “Palominos.” However, in keeping with a recent Huffington Post article, it is no surprise that a significant percentage of California's millennial Latinos regarded Hillary Clinton and her camp’s neo-liberal accommodation posture with respect to big oil, big pharma and big agriculture as well as the blind eye turned toward the Sith Lord-like cynical greed powering policies developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, as a droll, lackluster option. Naturally, they abandoned her during the primaries for the Sanders brand of progressive populism. And in November, more than a few sat out the election altogether.

In that scenario, an endorsement of Arturo Carmona’s candidacy by Bernie Sanders could easily tilt the scales enough to remind Democratic loyalists from the California to Washington that Dreamer-inspired, ’60s-style activism and resistance is no longer off the table or an outdated throwback form of political expression and response to the Trump war on women, the environment, people of color, the poor, the elderly, immigrants, Muslims, public education, the arts and civility itself. A resurgent Chicano movement, led by SoCal millennials who embrace Black Lives Matter and the reality of the Central American diaspora, is redefining what it means to be Latino in L.A. The renaissance in political activism acknowledges the geo-political and socio-economic roots of immigration, gentrification, the school-to-prison-pipeline and is not afraid to challenge the accepted range of solutions or approaches to the problems associated with those issues.

An article by Stephen A. Nuño for NBC Latino approached the issue of Latinos who are finally, after decades of election season platitudes and promises from the party leadership, ready for an entirely new paradigm. Unfortunately, Nuño’s piece focused on the contest shaping up to replace Becerra in Congress and the appeal of a more strident outsider activist attitude in determining the outcome of the election. Accordingly, he emphasized the predictable skirmish between Gómez and Sanders proxy Carmona as the leading example of the widening chasm between traditional Democratic Party stalwarts and a newer breed of Latinx organizers, while ignoring two equally high profile women compelled to run by a sense of urgency. Their concern, it goes without saying, is triggered by what they see as a tangible threat to the health and welfare of the communities where they have invested much of their life’s work.

Both Wendy Carrillo and Maria Cabildo have, until now, steered clear of direct participation in electoral politics as candidates in favor of direct action and long-term community-building. Carrillo, an organizer and a media liaison, is informed equally by her experience as an undocumented Salvadoran immigrant brought to the U.S. while still a young child and by her graduate studies in political science. The child of Mexican immigrants, Cabildo is a product of L.A.’s Eastside and an Ivy League education who has spent 20-years improving the quality of life for several thousand neighborhood residents with innovative economic empowerment strategies and a community development model that makes a full range of comprehensive educational, civic engagement and financial literacy programs an integral part of tenant services available for residents of the numerous affordable housing complexes built and managed by the non-profit she helmed as President and CEO.

Driven by a profound belief in the sanctity of human rights and a commitment to environmental justice, Ms. Carrillo spent several months in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation documenting the  efforts of water protectors who sought to sway corporate oil interests through prayer and ceremony into rerouting the Dakota Access Pipeline that even now, as a result of a Trump order rescinding an Obama administration halt to drilling and construction, is being routed underneath the Missouri River. More recently, Carrillo took part in the Women’s March on Washington and was the only Congressional candidate invited to address the assembled marchers.

A former Los Angeles County Planning Commissioner appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Ms. Cabildo is a single mother of two teenagers. Discussing her candidacy recently at a gathering of writers and educators within the modest Mt. Washington home of two long-time friends, historian Virginia Espino and author Hector Tobar, Cabildo spoke softly yet passionately about her own daughter’s sudden concern and anxiety over the results of the presidential election.

While the decision to seek an elected office was not an easy one, Cabildo confessed, she is determined to fight the dismantling of the limited advances and safeguards won by working people under Obama. Her late father, despite his humble station as an immigrant tailor, she explained, made sure that she and her siblings understood the importance of social engagement and working in common cause for the benefit of a greater community, the larger family of humankind. Whether it was through volunteer work at a local community center, enrolling her and her younger sister in neighborhood karate classes, or insisting that his wife—the candidate’s mother—who lacked a formal education, learn to read at a nearby adult literacy program, her father, added Cabildo, was a primary source for the strong sense of civic responsibility she still feels deeply today.

Although Garcetti has endorsed Gómez, understandable as a Democratic Party mandate, legendary political and human rights activist Jackie Goldberg recently announced her decision to endorse Cabildo for Becerra’s former position. Ironically, when Goldberg ended her final term on the Los Angeles City Council and ran successfully for State Assembly, she endorsed Garcetti in his bid to succeed her as the representative of the 13th Council District, an area that includes Hollywood and has long been regarded as the most politically progressive and culturally diverse district in the city. Cabildo supporters hope Goldberg’s eminence grise, Hogwarts-worthy charm still works. Cabildo is grateful for the nod from a leader she has admired for as long as she can remember and responded to Golberg’s coveted approval with characteristic grace.

“Jackie’s endorsement means the world to me, because she is one of the most principled public servants we’ve ever had,” Cabildo said. “On issues like economic justice, civil rights, and equal opportunity, Jackie Goldberg led the way.”

“Maria is truly special. No other candidate has made a more tangible difference in the lives of local residents,” said Goldberg. “Thanks to Maria, countless families have been able to find affordable housing and buy their first homes. She has been a tireless leader for economic opportunity for over 20 years. That’s true public service. I know that she is the most progressive and experienced candidate in this race.”


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