Four women and two men are vying for the state Assembly seat left vacant last November by Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima), who resigned amidst a sexual harassment scandal.
The eventual winner would represent the 39th Assembly District that stretches from Agua Dulce to Sylmar, and from Pacoima to Sunland-Tujunga.
If one of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the votes, he or she completes the remainder of Bocanegra’s term. Otherwise the two highest finishers would have a runoff election on June 5 — the same day as the scheduled state primary election.
The race would then appear twice on that ballot — once to complete the expiring term and again as the primary election for next two-year term beginning in 2019, according to Dean Logan, the Los Angeles county registrar of voters.
The special election — at an estimated cost of up to $1 million — became necessary after seven women accused Bocanegra of sexual harassment, including longtime capitol staff member Elise Flynn Gyore who said he had groped her at a public event in 2009 when he was chief of staff to then-Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes.
That incident allegedly occurred at an afterwork event attended by legislators, staff and lobbyists.
Gyore said Bocanegra approached her as she headed to the bathroom, put his hands inside her blouse and touched her breasts, an act she defined as “something completely unprovoked and shocking.”
While the accusations were surprising for many, they were not to former Assemblymember Patty Lopez, who upset Bocanegra for the seat in the 2014 election. Bocanegra would win the seat back in 2016, helped by financial backing from unions and the Democratic Party.
In an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Lopez – who is running again along with Yolie Anguiano, Ricardo Benitez, Patrea Patrick, Luz Rivas and Antonio Sanchez – criticized other women politicians for supporting Bocanegra when the allegations surfaced and claimed the rumors about his behavior were well known.
Those rumors, she said, made her pull her daughters from working in Bocanegra’s office, where they were interns after he was elected in 2012.
When a growing number of Bocanegra’s colleagues refused to work with him when the number of allegations mounted and pressure to step down increased, Bocanegra resigned last Thanksgiving weekend.
On March 21, the candidates appeared at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles at Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood, where they presented their views on topics ranging from health care to immigration.
Lopez is still running as an “independent” Democrat and railed against the “political machine.”
“I’m the only candidate that has lived in the district for the past 38 years. I didn’t move to the district just to run for this position,” Lopez said, noting that she is “not for the unions or special interests.”
Benitez, who previously worked for Lopez as her field deputy and was her close associate, considers himself an outsider as a lone Republican running for the Assembly seat in a state and district overwhelmingly Democrat.
He said he advocates for “jobs, education and better business.”
“I want to represent youngsters and bring them opportunities for a long time,” Benitez said, repeating again and again at the forum that he wants to bring “the representation that has always been in need.”
Anguiano is a City of San Fernando resident who developed and managed a job-training program at Pacoima-based nonprofit M.E.N.D. (Meeting Each Need with Dignity).
“I’m the only candidate that has worked in our district, in our community for the past 10 years,” Anguiano said. “It takes someone who has worked for our district to represent our district.”
Patrick is a documentary producer and author. She said her leading issue in this campaign is education.
“Our schools are falling behind. We get the money allocated to our schools, but where is that money going? Our children deserve the best. We can’t be a world class economy without world class education,” she noted.
Focus on Homeless, More Jobs
Rivas — an engineer and Public Works Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles — and Sanchez — who worked for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and currently is a workforce development director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 11— have well-funded campaigns.
Rivas who is endorsed by Bocanegra’s former supporters that include Congressman Tony Cardenas, City council woman Nury Martinez and Secretary of State Alex Padilla that opponents have negatively referred to as the “northeast valley’s political machine” has raised $172,586 from donors, while Sanchez has raised $274,909 mostly from unions. Both have bombarded their constituents with numerous campaign mailers especially during this last month of the campaign.
Sanchez said he wants to focus on jobs.
“Metro is investing and is building. Those jobs should be coming here,” he said. “Let’s look at those investments that we already have.”
He added that he wants to make sure that “when a student graduates from high school, they have to be ready for college or ready for work.”
For Rivas, the “number one priority in this district” is to end homelessness.
“We don’t want to walk our children to school on sidewalks filled with homeless, but we also want to help these people,” she said, adding that there is enough funding to help them.
“I want to make sure that the funding is being used properly and promptly.”
Benitez said that the solution to the homeless problem is to “recall proposition 47 and 51, all those bills that Jerry Brown signed to let all those people in jail come out and that’s why we have all those homeless.”
To reduce homelessness, Lopez supports to “have rent control for district 39 and the state of California,” to avoid people being evicted for not being able to pay when their rent is increased without limits.
Anguiano noted that she had “developed a job training program at MEND” and proposes “having free training and free education at the community college. We need to take care of those parameters so our workforce can grow strong.”
Lopez says that to create jobs, she wants to “bring a waiver to the small businesses for five years to hire people in our community.”
Patrick warned repeatedly of a “silver tsunami that will put enormous pressure on our budget as resources are needed for older folks reaching retirement.
“A lot of people over 60 can be the next homeless,” she said, vowing to end the “gridlock between city and county” and provide “tax incentives to the cities for good behavior to build housing for the homeless.”
Anguiano supports “per-manent supportive housing” for the homeless, but “I don’t want it all in Sylmar or Sun Valley,” she said.
One candidate expressed support for a single payer health care – a controversial proposal opposed even by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon because no one has said how the state could pay for it.
“I support the model, but the cost estimates are still uncertain. We need cooperation from the federal government and we know that’s not easy right now,” Sanchez said.
Benitez was the only one who disagreed and said that if you “create better jobs for individuals and let them choose their coverage, create better jobs is the solution to better healthcare.”
All the candidates except for Patrick are immigrants or children of immigrants. While all of the candidates support a path to legalization and protection for undocumented immigrants who follow the law and contribute to the economy, they draw a hard line and support deportation for those who commit crimes.
“A lot of hard working immigrants are here and they have kids and are having an impact in our communities,” Rivas said.
Added Sanchez, “My parents worked hard, they paid taxes and contributed to society. We have to fight to protect those ‘Dreamers’ who are here working. Diversity is our strength and [immigrants] also create a lot of new businesses.”
In terms of environment, Rivas said “We need to increase air quality monitoring” in the district and support “more open spaces like the Pacoima Wash Plan.”
Sanchez noted that he has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and advocates for “more solar power and creating jobs, transition away from fossil fuels.”
Patrick warned about the need to clean up the former nuclear site Rocketdyne in Simi Valley where the Santa Susana Field Laboratory developed and tested liquid-propellant rocket engines for the United States space program from 1949 to 2006, and nuclear reactors from 1953 to 1980.
Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 3.