Teen Candidate Makes Bid for 2015 Commerce Election
He cannot yet fundraise, but says he is getting the word out.
By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer
Fifteen-year old Commerce resident Johncito Peraza is counting down to his 18th birthday: the age when he will be able to run for city council.
Like many teens his age, Peraza enjoys playing sports, talking to friends on Facebook, and watching movies.
But unlike many of his peers, he regularly attends city council and commission meetings, speaks at school district board meetings, and tunes into C-SPAN every morning before going to school.
Peraza launched his campaign to run for the Commerce City Council in January, but will not be able to run until the March 2015 election. He is not allowed to fundraise or take donations for his campaign, but says in the meantime he can be getting the word out about his intentions to run.
Proposed cuts to youth and teen programs prompted him to run for city council. “As a teen, our programs are the ones that are first getting cut. The YES [youth summer employment] program is being targeted and I always believe there should be more jobs for people… by cutting that program, those who are in the program, they are going to be on the streets,” Peraza said.
He says there is a “crisis,” the likes of which the city has not seen in forty years, and budget cuts are threatening many vital city programs, such as the youth employment program, the library, and sports programs like soccer.
Peraza is particularly passionate about keeping his Atlantic branch of the Commerce Public Library open. “I’m an Atlantic Library product. I’ve been in every summer reading program. I check out the books. I use the computers. I rent out DVDs, laptops and all that stuff,” Peraza told EGP during an interview at the Atlantic Library branch, which was bustling with activity and patrons.
A recent proposal to close the Atlantic library branch was especially concerning to him, in particular because the city administrator is paid $250,000 a year, the same amount that’s needed to keep the library open for hundreds of people who visit the library every week.
Many people’s first reaction to Peraza’s bid for city council is to laugh. When they tell him that he is too young, he responds by telling them about his ideas. He says he is trying to get more support from outside of his own neighborhoods in Bandini and Rosewood Park where he grew up.
Some community members are apprehensive about someone this young getting exposed to the seedier side of politics. Randy Munoz who lives in Commerce and runs the Latino Diabetes Association based in Montebello provided some words of warning for Peraza, telling EGP in an email that politics is a “vicious business” and not always a “selfless calling.
Still, having someone Peraza’s age run may not be a bad idea. “He will up against more seasoned ‘professional elected officials’” and must learn more about “governance, fiscal budgeting, and various protocols before he gets in there,” Munoz said, but Peraza’s lack of experience is “maybe something we should embrace for once; being he has not been tainted yet,” Munoz said.
To others it seems natural that Peraza would try for a city council seat. Rosewood Park School principal Robert Cornejo says Peraza is very organized and has always been involved in the community, including as a founding member of the Boy’s Council, a 30 student committee that volunteers its time around the school and works to keep the school safe and clean.
“Not many students his age take the time to reflect on what is happening in their school and community and how they can make a difference. It does not surprise me that Johncito would want to serve in public office. He takes the time to research issues of importance to the community,” Cornejo told EGP in an email.
Peraza’s interest in government began in first grade during the nail-biting 2000 George W. Bush versus Al Gore election. “Everyone thinks one vote is not going to make a difference, but in that election, I saw the difference, all the negative campaigning, all the good campaigning, how Al Gore went to court with Bush, and how less than a hundred votes made a difference. It sparked an interest in me,” he said.
In recent years, he got drawn in by fireworks in local city politics when two city council members became subjects of a recall campaign. He said he did not support any particular candidate during the recall, but did go door to door to tell people to vote if they felt the two candidates had done something wrong.
Peraza says he is nonpartisan and tries to talk to as many city council members about the community’s concerns, either at city council public comment sessions, or during meetings at the officials’ offices. He has met with several city council members already, including Denise Robles, former Mayor Hugo Argumedo, Tina Baca del Rio, Ivan Altamirano, and Lela Leon and says he is trying to get some resolutions going.
He also tries to meet with elected officials and politicians outside the city, including Ian Calderon, a candidate for, and Ron Calderon, Los Angeles City Council Eric Garcetti, and Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster. He is even pushing his endorsement of U.S. Senate candidate Dan Hughes.
“Diane Feinstein has been on the senate a couple of years now. I haven’t seen much change. Maybe it’s time for a new senator,” Peraza said about why he is endorsing Hughes.
He says he has worked with the Montebello Unified School District the most. “My main concern is the education within that district. If there is a scholarship, don’t wait one week and send a memo to teachers, because not all of them are organized, and the teachers will lose it. Send out a letter to the students, parents, you’ve got all their addresses. Get a Facebook page. Everyone’s on Facebook. You can connect with everyone a bit faster,” he said.
Though Peraza has always been interested in government, what really got him interested in local politics was the death of a friend from lung cancer. This friend, who was 15 when he passed away, was the one who first attempted to “draft” him for city council.
“I didn’t start this campaign. A friend of mine did … I told him ‘You’re crazy, I’m a teen… no one’s going to vote for me. At first it started off as a joke… but you know, I started noticing more likes [to my Facebook page] and they’re like, you should definitely run,” he said.
Neighbors, friends his age, all said he should run. His sister continued the draft in January. He decided he would give it shot and soon started up his campaign website.
Peraza said that because of his friend’s death he is also keenly interested in pushing for a citywide Green Zones program that was originally proposed by a local environmental justice group. He says he lives on Astor Avenue, right next to a large railyard.
While he represents people his age, he says he also represents blue-collar workers in the city, especially because of his father.
“My father’s a blue-collar worker. They are the ones that are always getting targeted. If jobs get cut, they’re the ones to get affected. If benefits get cut they’re the first one to get affected. You don’t see the higher [up] workers getting their benefits cut. I represent the average resident. I’m going to set an example,” he says.
Peraza says his father is his inspiration. “He is a hardworking man, and the economy is tough. The economy has affected my family really bad. I see him stretching that check every fifteen days, making sure food is on the table, making sure the mortgage is paid… he will not give up,” he says.
Both Peraza’s parents are Salvadorean immigrants who have lived in Commerce for 15 to 16 years. His father previously lived in Laguna Hills.
Peraza plans to go to college in the Los Angeles area and plans to juggle college with his campaign to run for city council. He insists he does not see city council as a “stepping stone” to a higher office. While he says people have told him he should become president some day, he says he wouldn’t want the job.
He says he draws inspiration from another young politician, John F. Kennedy.
“He was very young… many people saw him as an instrument and a joke, because he was young. No one took him seriously,” Peraza said. “Many people see me like that. I’m young. Many people see that I’m going to be a joke. I’m like, look at John F. Kennedy. He’s so young… he stood up for what he believed in even if he stood alone.”Print This Post
April 26, 2012 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.