Gil Cedillo, The Activist Politician and the Latino Wars to Replace Hilda Solis
By Javier Rodriguez LaRayueladeJavier. blog.com May 19, 2009
The battle to replace Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in the designated majority minority Latino Congressional District 32 in Los Angeles has become an important development of local and national significance, implicating the rising Latino political class and its different camps, the direction of Latino progressive politics, a divided and embattled labor movement, the future of immigration reform and a genuine independent representation and empowerment in the nation’s capitol for the people in the East North East LA and San Gabriel Valley areas of Southern California.

The demographics. The district’s profile consists of over 225,000 residents and it has been a Latino district, redesigned and protected under the Civil Rights Voting Act since 1982. Today there are 126,000 registered voters, with 51% Latino registered voters and of those 30,000 are considered newly immigrant voters, a product of the struggle against Republican Governor Pete Wilson and Proposition 187. In 75% of these households, Spanish is the first language. It also holds 15 to 18% voters that are of Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian descent.

The political blocks are divided behind the two principal candidates, Sen. Gil Cedillo and Judy Chou, and on one side you can read the machiavelian politics of divide and conquer being displayed and on the other, the cry against machine politics has unified the large Latino voting block with the more progressive and/or independent sector of the Latino Establishment and allies.

Cedillo has the largest active endorsement of local, state and national Latino politicians consisting of the highly influential LA County Supervisor Molina, Sheriff Lee Baca, the biggest share of congressional endorsements led by fifth ranking House Democrat Xavier Becerra, Hispanic Caucus Chair Nydia Velazquez and the intrepid and progressive Maxine Waters. On the State level there are the still influential Richard Polanco and Richard Alatorre, Senator Ron Calderon and lastly there is Latina feminist Senate Majority leader Gloria Romero, leading the broad group of women elected leaders in support of Cedillo. And from labor, the major split in the FED came with the powerhouse endorsement of SEIU with Bigoton Mike Garcia leading the charge of the activist Janitor and Home Care Worker locals in California.

For State Equalization Board Member Chou, aside from an array of local small town endorsements and funds from all over the country, the only significant players are County Federation of Labor, with no troops allotted and the simpatico LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In this juncture the major question comes to the fore: District 32 has been a Latino congressional enclave for years, then why did Durazo and Villaraigosa endorsed Chou? Especially with Cedillo holding the moral and historical upper hand. Judy as a member of the Assembly Appropriations Committee three years ago held the License Bill back and she is no fire ball and it’s unquestionably a Latino majority district and growing. The answer may lie in personal agendas and personal politics. First and foremost the rightful heir to Hilda Solis was Romero, but the long term personal conflict on the part of LA Labor Chief Maria Elena Durazo prompted the senator to avoid the hassle and backed away, bidding her time. Then the other family feud surges forth between the mayor and Cedillo, but the latter took the bull by the horns. He wasn’t intimidated and it is not only the Ken Hahn endorsement, it involves major and highly symbolical differences such as the Grey Davis endorsement for governor. Gilbert endorsed and campaigned for the victorious and labor backed Davis while Antonio chosed Millionaire Checci. There is the license bill and the suspension of the towing of vehicles in LA which Chief Bratton endorsed and the mayor then vetoed. More, then comes the giant mass demonstrations of 2006, where Cedillo and Romero marched and assisted, lending legitimacy to the historical efforts in defense of immigrants, our people. And this is the banger, along with then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, unequivocally they led the closing of the State Capitol in support of the “Great American Boycott-A Day Without an Immigrant”, which astonishingly the mayor and the County FED director furiously opposed and scabbed on. It’s amazing because all five were schooled initially in the immigrant rights movement, not the UFW.

On Judy’s endorsement, the mayor’s history is relevant. This is the third time he forsakes Latino districts and positions, although Jackie Goldberg was a tiger. So why this time? Lore says it’s campaign donations for his upcoming governor’s race. What about newcomer Emanuel Pleitez of El Sereno, the rumor mill tells his candidacy is suspect, playing the role of spoiler, dividing the Latino vote. This tactic of bankrolling a candidate as a diversion is as old as capitalist politics.

Again the fortitude and popular support is on the side of Cedillo. He is a progressive and we have observed and lived his trajectory since his days as a student leader at UCLA and in law school. His travels through Mexico, Central and Latin America. As an early immigrant rights leader and member of CASA and then as a union organizer and the most dynamic leader that SEIU 660 -now 721- has ever had. Back then, his leadership was fervently displayed in the fight against Proposition 187 and his leading the 20,000 unionist contingent in the historic march of October 16, 1994. His election as a State Assemblyman and Senator is not only exemplary in defense of immigrants on the license bills and the Dream Act, but also passing and getting 80 bills signed into law during his tenure as a legislator, which all together has presently earned him the chair of the Senate Latino Caucus. As an elected leader, he has been both an independent thinker and a team player, always representing the interests of all working people, unionists, the middle class, the underdogs. And lastly, he was an early leading voice and a risk taker against the right wing Republican Bush administration -this when it wasn't highly popular- and again, in the company of Senator Gloria Romero and Congressman Xavier Becerra, they campaigned hard for the change the country wanted in 2008 and the election of Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama has said he won’t tackle comprehensive immigration reform this year”. Julie Mason Examiner White House Correspondent 05/09/09.

Today in Congress, his type of leadership is warranted, especially now that it has been reported President Obama, unfortunately, has taken immigration reform off the priority list for this year. For all of us in this sector of the country’s social movement, Gilbert has an enviable and proven track record as a public servant. If elected he will become a fervent voice and leader for Los Angeles in this, the last stretch in the struggle for progressive immigration reform, humanitarian legalization, an official stop to the infamous ICE raids and the separation of our families. And it doesn’t stop there, as a progressive he will have to tackle the economy, jobs and foreclosures for his district and the nation, ending the wars of occupation, the infamous torture being applied by US forces on prisoners, good sound health care reform, etc. The outcome is only hours away.

Javier Rodriguez, a Media-Political Strategist is also a progressive journalist and for years published in the LA Times, La Opinion, Eastern Group Publications, syndicated nationally with Hispanic Link , Uno Mas Uno, and recently ZNET.org, Newtorkaztlan. com and has now joined STN’s Portaluno.com. He is now writing his analysis and experiences in the Immigrant rights movement, including the making of 25 March 2006. Email bajolamiradejavier@ yahoo.com
*The piece will be updated to reflect the election results of May 19, 2009.