That’s a question I ask myself these days as I observe the political theater that is the Northeast San Fernando Valley. 

The cast of characters has not changed much since Tony Cardenas was elected to the California State Assembly in 1996 and Alex Padilla to the Los Angeles City Council in 1999. As these two allies moved up the political ranks—Cardenas to Washington, Padilla to Sacramento—so did the fortunes of their staffers and local allies.

Take, for instance, Los Angeles City Councilman (and former Assemblyman) Felipe Fuentes. He served as Padilla’s chief of staff when the latter ruled the roost at City Hall as council president. Or Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, who worked as Fuentes’s chief of staff when the latter occupied a seat in the state legislature.

And then there is the strange case of Los Angeles City Councilwoman (and former San Fernando City Councilwoman) Nury Martinez. A one-time ally of Richard “Tricky Dick” Alarcon, she now hobnobs with Cardenas, Padilla and company. What is more, her husband, Gerry Guzman, runs Bocanegra’s district operations. 

(Oddly, Martinez’s biography on her LA City Council webpage makes no mention of her previous service to Alarcon and her time on the San Fernando City Council).

All this is to say that it was refreshing to see a political novice by the name of Patty Lopez upset Raul Bocanegra in the race for the 39th Assembly District. Her showing proves that a seemingly ordinary candidate with grit and a penchant for grassroots activism can best a well-entrenched incumbent in these neck of the woods.

Contrary to popular opinion, no seat is “safe” in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

I don’t know Ms. Lopez. I had never heard of her until I saw her name on the ballot on November 4 and decided to cast my vote for her. “Anyone but Bocanegra,” I thought to myself at the time. 

It’s not that I don’t like Bocanegra or had never heard of his much publicized efforts to expand California’s film and TV tax credit. The problem, quite frankly, is that I, like many voters in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, are tired of buying the same horse twice. I am hard-pressed to see how my—our—quality of life has improved with Bocanegra and Fuentes (and their political benefactors) in office.

Beyond tangibles (dilapidated sidewalks, lack of green space, development run amok, etc.), what disappoints me most about our veteran politicians is their lack of vision. Rarely do we hear about the state of our community—the progress made and the challenges that remain. Rarely do we hear about their plans for bettering our future and our well-being. And rarely do we hear that oh-so-basic question, “How can I help you?”

Leadership is hard to come by in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The current crop of characters (and the game of musical chairs they play) is uninspiring. I am ready to give political newcomers like Patty Lopez a chance. We need more competitive elections and fresh candidates who are willing to shake things up.

Dr. David M. Rodriguez is a freelance writer and historian. A resident of Sylmar, he holds degrees from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Eds Note:

Outstanding ballots are still being counted in this tight race.  At press  time, Lopez leads Bocanegra by 235 votes, widening her lead.