Patty Lopez, who became one of the fiercest and most outspoken critics against the former San Fernando City Council embroiled in scandals and also was part of a coalition that pushed for a recall election, surprised everyone by defeating incumbent state Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra in the 39th District.
While Lopez had been encouraged to run for a local city council seat, she set her sights higher.
“I’m shocked,” said Lopez, who described herself as an “ordinary mom.”
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Lopez had 17,427 votes, or 50.3 percent, compared to Bocanegra’s 17,245 votes, or 49.7 percent.
Lopez, who is closely tied to the Spanish-speaking community, assembled a grass roots team of people that included a core group of women and parents. Many of them, who never worked on a campaign before, walked the precinct with Lopez .
In contrast, Bocanegra — who easily won the primary and perhaps underestimated Lopez — spent some of his time during the campaign outside of the district making appearances to support other Assembly candidates.
“I think he thought I was a small person with no budget, no connections and no endorsements,” Lopez said.
Bocanegra assumed office in 2012 after defeating former Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon in a very contested and nasty election.
Prior to being elected to the state assembly, Bocanegra was chief of staff for Felipe Fuentes, his predecessor.
“The difference was that I walked my community in every single neighborhood, every single day, for the past six months,” Lopez said. “And even though he had a lot of signs that were up at people’s homes, I would speak with them and ask why they had them [displayed] and asked what change had they seen and what good did they see in the community that came from Bocanegra?
“In the beginning I ran to raise my concerns. But after June, when I got into the second round, I received the endorsement from Kevin Suscavage, offering his connections. We made a strong team,” she continued. “He has been an essential person in my campaign. Several people were telling me to drop out of the race, saying that it wasn’t time for me to run and promised to help me run for the local city council. For me, honestly I never thought it was about me.”
Lopez said she based her campaign on education, jobs, housing and immigration.
“It’s about serving people and giving a voice for people who don’t have a voice,” she said.
Prior to running for office Lopez — who previously worked at the North Valley Occupational Center — was active in protesting cuts to adult education.
“I knew that at the level that I’m advocating for, it had to be in Sacramento. It’s where the laws are made that impact money to the schools,” she said.
“ESL and adult education have been cut, which have hurt hundreds of people who now can’t get jobs. There are now three-year waiting lists for people to get into LVN programs. We need more vocational and trade schools in our community. We need education, and we need more trade schools, and vocational schools in the area.”
Bocanegra had reported more than $600,000 in campaign contributions this year, while Lopez apparently spent little to no money on her campaign. She had no campaign committee and reported no fundraising or expenditure information to the Secretary of State.
When she learned of her win, she spent it quietly with close friends at her campaign office who each brought a dish of food to share.
“We didn’t have money for a big party, and that’s not what this is about,” Lopez said. “This isn’t about winning a position, it’s about what the needs are in the community.”
Lopez describes herself as a wife of 28 years, married to Juan Lopez who she said is very supportive of her activism. She is a mother to four girls and a grandmother.
“My family is now used to me flying to Sacramento, and even Washington, D.C., to speak on issues. I really want to thank those who didn’t give up and supported this campaign. I want to create change for the community and want to encourage other people, women and moms that if I can do it, they can too,” Lopez said.
District 39 covers an area from Granada Hills to North Hollywood, and much of the northeastern San Fernando Valley.