Last fall, when former Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra was accused of sexual harassment, Congressman Tony Cardenas — his long-time ally and supporter — noted that the state politician should resign if the accusations against him proved true.
“We must reject a status quo where women, in particular, are preyed upon at work, in our schools and on our streets,” Cardenas said then. “We must do more than listen; we must hold people accountable.”
Now it’s Cardenas who’s on the hot seat, facing allegations that he drugged and fondled a teenage girl during a 2007 golf outing, which he vehemently denies.
Attorney Patricia Glaser, who represents the 55-year-old Democrat, said Cardenas “is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100 percent, categorically untrue.”
Calls for his Resignation
The accusations have thrown a wrench in an otherwise routine re-election campaign for Cardenas, who has raised more than $1 million ahead of the June 5 primary where he faces four virtually unknown candidates: Joseph Shammas (D), Benito Bernal (R), Angelica Dueñas (Green) and Juan Rey (Independent).
The allegations would certainly have an impact on voters as they head to the polls, even if nothing is proven yet.
And while most of Cardenas’ colleagues remain tight-lipped, others are calling for his resignation.
“I call on Congressman Tony Cardenas to resign immediately, in light of reports that he is facing accusations of sexual molestation of a child,” said Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board member Kelly Gonez, who represents District 6.
“I am deeply disturbed by the pattern of elected officials in the San Fernando Valley who have been exposed for assaults and harassment against women and, now, a young girl. My constituents, our community and the Democratic Party deserve better, and I hope other elected officials in the region will stand with me in denouncing this abhorrent behavior,” she added.
Shammas, the only other Democrat in the race for the 29th Congressional District currently held by Cardenas, also echoed those words.
“I am disgusted and horrified by the egregious allegations against Congressman Tony Cardenas of sexually abusing a minor. Congressman Tony Cardenas needs to face and address these in a court of law,” said the retired military officer.
“Victims of sexual assault deserve to be heard and their allegations should be taken seriously. The 29th District deserves better, and I believe that Congressman Cardenas should step down from office immediately,” he added.
Someone else who raised her voice to call for Cardenas to step down was former Assemblymember Patty Lopez, who is running for the 39th Assembly District in the June 5 primary, a seat she held from 2014-2016 after defeating Bocanegra.
In that race, Cardenas has come out strongly in support of Lopez’s competitor, Luz Rivas.
Rivas’ supporters also include Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martinez and Monica Rodriguez — who both have remained silent after the allegations against Cardenas surfaced (much like they did when the scandal broke over Bocanegra). In fact Martinez’s husband, Gerardo Guzman, worked for Bocanegra and left the same way his boss did after it was found that he, too, made unwanted advances and otherwise behaved inappropriately to female subordinates.
“I think that whether it’s true or not, he (Cardenas) should be out to avoid more problems,” Lopez said.
“Out of dignity, respect for the people who elected him and his position, and all the women who supported him, they should put themselves in the victims’ shoes,” she added.
“What hope do we have that, as an elected official, he will make laws to protect the victims when they are being investigated?” Lopez questions.
She says that other elected officials who support Cardenas and the Democratic Party are also covering for him.
“How can we ask that the President leave if our representatives are conducting themselves with no shame,” Lopez noted.
Meanwhile, Cardenas’ attorney, Glaser, noted that her client has an “exemplary record in more than 20 years of public service” and that the plaintiff is the “daughter of a disgruntled former employee and may be the victim of manipulation.”
Criminal and Congressional Inquiry
Over the weekend, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for the House Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations against the Panorama City Representative.
“I have spoken with Congressman Cardenas and he appropriately asked us to withhold judgment until there is a full investigation of the facts,” Pelosi (D-San Francisco), said in a statement.
“As Members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives, and any type of alleged misconduct must be investigated by the Ethics Committee. Congressman Cardenas said he will fully cooperate with an Ethics investigation.”
The allegations against Cardenas surfaced at the end of April, when attorney Lisa Bloom filed a lawsuit on behalf of an unnamed woman against a Los Angeles County politician she did not name (the name of the defendant remained anonymous because it was alleging child sexual abuse and state law did not allow her to publicly name him without court permission).
However, on Thursday May 3, Cardenas admitted to the Los Angeles Times that he was the target of that lawsuit, which his lawyer blasted.
“We respect victims who have found the strength to come forward and call out misconduct when it has actually occurred, but the type of baseless and reckless allegations that are contained in the complaint against my client can ruin the lives and careers of innocent people,” Glaser said.
The lawsuit contends the plaintiff met Cardenas in 2005 when she was a 14-year-old star teenage athlete and he was a City Councilmember representing District 6.
The suit said the official became close with her and her family, and he invited her to play golf at Hillcrest Country Club in January 2007, when the plaintiff was 16. During the game, he handed her a cup of ice water that “tasted distinctly different from both tap and filtered water,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit contends that the girl collapsed, but remained conscious, prompting the official to drive her to a hospital.
“During the ride, he reached inside her shirt and rubbed her breasts, the suit alleges. He also reached down her shorts and fondled her vagina,” according to the suit.
According to the lawsuit, the girl never confronted the man or reported him to police out of fear of retaliation against her and her family, but she was inspired to file the lawsuit in response to the #MeToo movement.
This is not the first time Cardenas faces inquiries.
In 2015 the Congressman was called to testify before a grand jury, reportedly about campaign issues.
He also raised eyebrows that year for hiring his wife and stepdaughter to work on his political campaign, paying them a combined $120,000. Norma Cárdenas is a marketer and stepdaughter Vanessa De La Rosa is a political event planner.
Members of Congress are barred from hiring family members as staffers or steering contracts involving official funds toward relatives. But relatives can be paid for campaign work, provided bona fide work is performed and a fair market value wage provided.
The payments to Cardenas’ relatives didn’t involve taxpayer money and came from campaign contributions.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and Senior Fellow with the USC Price School of Public Policy, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that it’s hard to gauge the ramifications or impact these allegations sexual improprieties may have on Cardenas’ political future.
“This is still in the courts. He can decide whether or not there is enough in the charges to warrant him leaving the race, but it’s too late to take his name off the ballot,” she said of the upcoming primary.
However, she says that “I haven’t seen the kind of ripple effect when there have been charges against other legislators.”
That is something that conservatives have been pointing to, noting that when Republicans have been accused of similar charges (such as Congressional candidate Roy Moore in Alabama last year), the media have been quick to point fingers and treat the accusations as convictions. But not so for Democrats.
But that’s “Alabama and this is California,” Bebitch Jeffe said. “It has to do with political culture” and a more conservative slant. “It’s like apple and oranges,” she says.
She adds that “This is an incumbent member of Congress. His constituents know him.”
And, she says, that politics are in a different world now.
“We’ve become so cynical about everything. I don’t know what kind of an impact an attack by an opponent will have (on Cardenas),” she says. “What impact media coverage will have.
“It’s terrible, but things are not what they were before Donald Trump,” she adds. “And this doesn’t reach the level of Harvey Weinstein, and Donald Trump (if you believe the charges against him). We’re in a different political world, our culture has shifted, has changed a bit.
“If there hasn’t been an outcry for him to resign, it may not have a significant impact on the election,” Bebitch Jeffe said.