Imelda Padilla during her victory speech at Chiguacle Restaurant in Sun Valley Tuesday, June 27. She defeated Marisa Alcaraz in the special election for the Los Angeles Council District 6 seat vacated by Nury Martinez. (Photo by of Jessica Martinez)

It was a noisy packed house with so many people it was hard to move inside the Chiguacle Restaurant in Sun Valley Tuesday night. Known as a friendly location for community events and a favorite of Congressman Tony Cárdenas, the location was selected to watch the results come in for the special election to fill the Sixth District seat vacated by Nury Martinez.

With voter turnout of only 10.04%, it turned out to be a pretty early night with Imelda Padilla announcing victory over Marisa Alcaraz. Semifinal returns indicated Padilla had defeated Alcaraz 56.74%-43.26%, 6,684-5,096.

Following her victory speech, Padilla told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol that she felt “humbled that my community has placed me in this position to serve them. Thank you,” she said. “I’m ready to get to work and I’m incredibly excited that my community has trusted me.”

A glance of the very packed room did indicate a strong alliance with the valley’s longtime Latino political guard, along with many new faces that supported the Padilla camp. Congressman Cárdenas was front and center following the victory announcement.

Imelda Padilla (right) and Congressman Tony Cárdenas (left) . (Photo by Jessica Martinez)

“It is great to see the community once again elect someone from the community, the daughter of immigrants,” Cárdenas said. “It is a lot of responsibility and Imelda is going to do a great job.”

Padilla noted during her victory speech how proud she was that her campaign reflected so much diversity. 

San Fernando Mayor Celeste Rodriguez, who reflects a new wave of Latina leadership, said she walked for Padilla throughout the day. “Imelda is from the community and has proven she will always be for the community so I was happy to support her. She had a range of support from our congressman to people like me who are new to politics and we share our love for the community no matter our ages.”

In the large crowd, there were many longtime residents of the Northeast San Fernando Valley who were previous supporters and longtime allies of fallen-from-grace — Nury Martinez.

Martinez represented the valley’s largely Latina/o district until October when she resigned, first her Council presidency and then, two days later, her seat altogether after she was caught making perceived “racist comments” in a meeting that was secretly taped and leaked to the news media.

Marisa Alcaraz  (Photo by Jessica Martinez)

Among Padilla’s supporters was Ruben Rodriguez, the Executive Director of Pueblo Y Salud in San Fernando, who has been involved in many campaigns over the years. He strongly objects to what happened to Martinez and believes that if someone had to replace her, Imelda knows the community best.  

“Three or four different unions supported Padilla, including SEIU West, who canvassed for her,” he said. “Scores of young people phone banked for her. Imelda was obviously the best candidate and she’s earned her stripes. Padilla was always supportive of the Cesar Chavez March and Comision Femenil and other local organizations. I’ve been involved in community events for 50 years and I never saw Marisa Alcaraz at a single event. She was clearly an outside candidate,” said Rodriguez.   

Padilla was born in Van Nuys and raised in Sun Valley, graduating from Roscoe Elementary School, Byrd Middle School and Polytechnic High School. She received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree from Cal State Northridge.

Rodriguez noted the hit pieces during the campaign from the Alcaraz camp that he said attempted to negatively link Padilla’s background with Nury Martinez. He maintains that people should be aware and stay mindful of what occurred to Martinez and what should now be done going forward.

“The hit pieces that tried to link Imelda with Nury Martinez who, by the way, committed no crime were so hypocritical and a double standard,” said Rodriguez. “Marisa has worked for years for Curren Price, who now faces criminal charges for corruption. Where are the Black leaders condemning these criminal acts?” he asks.

Price faces five counts of grand theft by embezzlement, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest. He is accused of accepting payments paid through his wife of $150,000 from developers before voting to approve their projects.

“While Nury shouldn’t have made the comments she made, she was illegally recorded, which was criminal activity committed against her. She committed no crime,” said Rodriguez.

“In the African American community, they have two leaders, one convicted [Mark Ridley Thomas] and the other [Curren Price] who is facing criminal charges yet they stand up to defend them. As they say, ‘let’s give the devil their due — they are better organized,’” he said, pointing out that the African American community is making a case for constituents wanting Price to stay and Councilman Krekorian voicing concern about the financial impact to the Price family.

“What a double standard,” Rodriguez said. “Why didn’t they ask for Ridley Thomas to resign and why aren’t they asking for Price to resign?”  

Rodriguez emphasized there was no such concern for the welfare of Martinez’s family or her constituents, who he said had difficulty trying to get services after she was forced under pressure and duress to vacate her seat.

Following the scandal that forced Martinez to resign, Rodriguez with other longtime residents of the northeast San Fernando Valley objected to what he called a “lynch mob” that caused a “power grab” and the loss of key leadership in the Latino community, including the resignation of Ron Herrera as the head of the powerful LA Labor Federation.

Herrera was replaced by Yvonne Wheeler, the first Black woman to lead the union known as the “Fed” that represents 800,000 workers in 300 unions and is considered a strong influence in local and state politics. The African American community has long complained that young Black workers have been barred from construction jobs in preference for cheap Latino labor.

“The district suffered,” said Rodriguez. “Those comments [that were viewed as racist] should not have been made, but with a lynch mob we lost key leadership and the district suffered and went unrepresented without proper services for months.”

The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol found Martinez’s district office locked with lights out and spoke to members of staff who asked not to be identified but said that services weren’t being provided because “there was no one representing the district.”

In previous interviews, longtime activists commended Martinez for the commitment she had to the community on increasing the minimum wage, women’s issues, parental leave and putting an end to human trafficking. She successfully cleaned up prostitution along Sepulveda Boulevard in North Hills.

Padilla’s supporters hope she continues the work that Martinez began and can become as strong a force at City Hall as Martinez was as council president. They see it as positive that Padilla has been entrenched in the northeast valley. She is the sister of Veronica Padilla-Campos, executive director of the organization — Pacoima Beautiful. That position was previously held by Nury Martinez prior to her election to the City Council.

District 6 consists of Van Nuys, Arleta, Lake Balboa, Panorama City, Sun Valley and the eastern portions of North Hills and North Hollywood.

“Now that Imelda is elected, I hope she does a great job and pulls our community back together,” said Rodriguez. “We have to do everything we can to find a positive result. All of this [with Martinez] set us back, but gives us an opportunity to regroup, organize and move forward,” he said. “A lot of our [Latino] electeds have became complacent and this [win] sparks positive energy,” he believes. “We have to shape a new path forward.” 

This victory will put her in the council seat only until December 2024 to finish out Martinez’s term. Then she’ll have to run again.

A formal statement released late Tuesday evening by Padilla read, “As someone who has been a community organizer and coalition builder in the Valley for 20 years, I am ready to be the community’s champion in LA City Council to ensure that we get our fair share of resources to thrive.”