Voters in Los Angeles’ first council district will decide on Tuesday whether they want to replace their termed-out councilman with his long-time chief of staff, or a former state legislator who has served in both the senate and assembly.
Jose Gardea, chief of staff to Councilman Ed P. Reyes, and former senator and assemblyman Gil Cedillo actually agree on many of the issues they have been asked about. Leadership style and public persona are perhaps where the two candidates are the most different.
Gardea’s job as Reyes’ chief of staff was to run things behind the scene rather than in the limelight. Cedillo, on the other hand, has spent most of his political career in the public eye, at the front of the rally and at the podium.
Those differences could play a big part in how voters see their choices, particularly since it’s likely whoever is elected will try to hold on to the seat for all three of the four-year terms allowed. The last CD-1 councilmember to stay for only one term was now-Supervisor Gloria Molina, who served from 1987 to 1991.
Cedillo came close to winning the election outright during the primary in March, winning 49.3 percent of the vote to Gardea’s 43.5 percent, with fewer than 1,000 votes separating them. Both candidates have since been working feverishly to pick up supporters which could mean a new crop of voters for both candidates this time around.
While there has been some animosity in the campaign, Cedillo and Gardea actually agree on many local issues, such as reopening the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington and the installation of bike lanes in the district. They both support the neighborhood council system and agree that street cleaning and public safety are big issues in the district that while the smallest geographically has some of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods and oldest infrastructure.
Both candidates have said that if elected their staff would include people to help expedite permits for new businesses in the district, something Cedillo says Gardea should have been doing for the last 12 years. Gardea told EGP that his job as chief of staff was to implement Reyes’ vision, and he will do some things differently.
They also agree that reducing crime takes more than just good policing, but also requires gang prevention and intervention services and both support continued funding of those types of programs. Both opposed the opening of a Walmart in Chinatown, but while Cedillo had no involvement in the process, Gardea has been criticized for Reyes’ staff “not being on top” of the permitting process that led to the store’s opening.
And while both candidates support restoration of the Los Angeles River, Gardea is more invested in the project that has for years been one of Reyes’ top priorities and is now a major ecological and development plan in the city. Cedillo thinks work should continue on the project, but says more attention should be paid to day-to-day quality of life issues like trash pick up and graffiti removal.
One of the areas where there is the most disagreement is the SR-710 Gap Closure project.
Gardea has said he opposes “any” version of the 710-freeway expansion project while Cedillo, who authored a bill to eliminate a surface freeway route from consideration, says the freeway gap needs to be completed to improve local and regional traffic.
While all but the “No Build” alternatives will to some extent disrupt local neighborhoods (the tunnel alternative being the biggest and most expensive) none of the proposed alternatives are within the first district’s boundaries. Whoever is elected could still have influence as a member of the 15-member city council, which has members on Metro’s board.
Attacks by the candidates and their surrogates have grown harsher during the last leg of the campaign, with both candidates trading barbs at candidate forums in Highland Park and at the California Endowment.
Gardea has sought to identify Cedillo as a big time politician with a lavish lifestyle who has the backing of big money interests like Chevron and unions. He says Cedillo earned Chevron’s support by not voting for AB 32, a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions. Gardea says unlike Cedillo, he’s not a life time politician or political insider.
Cedillo’s campaign has countered by saying “Jose Gardea is not who he says he is,” and accuses him of taking over $92,000 from developers, real estate interests and thousands from Republican donors, adding that Gardea does not have the support of Democrats. Cedillo calls Gardea an insider who has already had 12 years to make a difference in CD-1, but has failed. Just because he’s been there, doesn’t mean he’s entitled to remain, says Cedillo.
Gardea and Cedillo each have about half the endorsements of current city council members, with the termed-out councilmen evenly split among them.
Cedillo, who was once the general manager for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has the support of several labor organizations, as does Gardea.
Cedillo’s political endorsements list dozens of current and former elected officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, State Controller John Chiang, Supervisor Gloria Molina and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Brown said, “Gil Cedillo is a proven local leader who knows how to bring people together to get things done. We need Gil Cedillo’s leadership, strength and passion on the Los Angeles City Council in order to create jobs, increase neighborhood safety, and expand after-school programs that keep our kids safe.”
Gardea has also received some important political endorsements; including United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, US Representatives Judy Chu and Tony Cardenas, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and Councilman Jose Huizar.
“I support Jose Gardea because he is on the side of the people – not the corporations. Jose fights for good jobs and working families, and has the courage we need on City Council to stand up to the special interests,” Huerta said in her endorsement statement.
A third candidate in the primary election, local businessman Jesse Rosas received 1,228 votes and has thrown his support behind Cedillo.
“We need new leadership in our community,” Rosas told EGP. “I don’t want the 12 years the same, I think Mr. Gardea will not change things.” During the primary he said the district was far behind other council districts in attracting businesses and improving services.
Both Gardea and Cedillo are children of Mexican immigrants. Cedillo grew up in Boyle Heights. Gardea was raised in Echo Park. They both speak Spanish well, though Gardea a little more fluently.
Cedillo has a strong track record of championing immigrant causes— including drivers’ licenses and in financial aid for undocumented immigrants —dating back to 1998 when he first served as assemblyman for the 46th District. Cedillo also represented the 22nd Senate District and most recently the 45th Assembly District. He lost his bid for Congress in 2009 to Judy Chu.
Gardea touts his first hand experience with the informal Central American immigrant economy in the MacArthur Park area. He says he helped create the first street vending district for former Councilman Mike Hernandez, and says the city council must create policy to regulate street vendors because they will not disappear. It is a business economic issue, not a public works issue, he said.
Gardea’s critics often ask why the problems he talks about were not solved during his 12 year tenure as Reyes’ chief of staff, a question he responds to by saying many improvements were made during that time, but were slowed in recent years by the poor economy and the city’s tight budget.
“I’m very proud of our results. Up until our budget crisis, we were fixing sidewalks with concrete, surfacing streets, trimming trees,” Gardea told EGP. “We have a lot of work to do, but to finish the work we started, we need experience, we need work ethic and we need vision to complete the job and I believe I bring it.” He says getting the job done is personal for him, since he ha always lived in the district.
Cedillo’s critics have accused him of being a “professional politician” who moves from public office to public office. Cedillo sees nothing wrong with “effective” public officials staying in office.
When asked earlier this year by EGP publisher Dolores Sanchez why he is running again, Cedillo said that he’s a public servant, and good at it.
The “city needs leadership, this district needs leadership,” Cedillo responded, noting the 100 bills he’s had approved by four governors—two republican, two democrat. He says the district needs someone who can demand that more resources are allocated to the district.
He said it’s a “myth” that he will not be able to solve “smaller problems” at the city level, given his success with larger state issues.
Gardea underscores his expertise in local community and municipal issues when saying why he should be elected, while Cedillo points to his proven leadership and connections to state legislators as something greatly needed in CD-1. He says those are resources he will be able to marshal to make changes in the district. You have to think big to get things done, Cedillo told EGP.
“Name recognition is an illusion,” Gardea told EGP. “LA is not Sacramento. Legislation is created differently. You have to be hands-on in Los Angeles. If you’re not hands-on you can’t do the job…”
On Tuesday, the election could come down to who can mobilize the most voters to go to the polls. And that could depend on whose style voters thinks is likely to get the most done.
For more information or to read the candidate’s statements, visit http://clerk.lacity.org/Elections/