Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Online extra: Political Notes:
Gay Latino labor activist
set to make history


Openly gay Los Angeles Assembly candidate John Perez, left, was in town earlier this month for a fundraiser hosted by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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University of California, Berkeley alum John Perez is set to make California history this year as the first openly gay Latino elected to the Legislature. Perez is the odds-on favorite to replace termed out Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) in the 46th Assembly District seat.

A former Oakland resident and college chum of Phil Ting, San Francisco's assessor-recorder, Perez, 38, finds himself in frontrunner status for the June 3 primary now that his two biggest opponents in the race have dropped out, leaving him to face off against largely unknown candidate Michael Aldapa, a community organizer.

Both Ricardo Lara, an openly gay aide to Nunez, and Arturo Chavez, an aide to state Senator Gil Cedillo, (D-Los Angeles), dropped out of the race in March. Perez, a cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is expected to not only easily survive the primary but also clinch the race in November as the downtown LA district leans heavily Democratic. The two men's decision to quit the race ends what was shaping up to be a bitter battle between three up and coming Latino leaders, as well as two well-liked members of the LA's LGBT community.

Perez's only obstacle to victory would appear to be the fact that both Lara's and Chavez's names will still appear on the ballot. Voters not paying close attention to the race could assume either man is still in the running.

For that reason, Perez isn't taking a victory for granted. He recently was in his old Bay Area stomping grounds to attend a fundraiser hosted by state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) at the Omni Hotel in downtown San Francisco, mere blocks away from where Perez used to work as the political director of the California Labor Federation in 2000. For over a year he divided his time between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter at the event, Perez said, "You have got to take every single piece of a campaign seriously. Many voters haven't gotten to know us yet. If voters go to the ballot and don't know my name they may make a different choice."

Perez's expected cakewalk of a campaign is in marked contrast to the bare-knuckles primary fight between two of San Francisco's most powerful gay Democratic lawmakers – state Senator Carole Migden and state Assemblyman Mark Leno – for Migden's 3rd District Senate seat, where they are also facing strong competition from former Marin Assemblyman Joe Nation.

Perez said that he and his opponents came to the conclusion it would be better for voters if there were not a protracted fight over the Assembly seat.

"These are people I have worked with for a long time and have had positive relationships for a long time," said Perez. "My friends decided we would be better coming together rather than fighting it out."

Finding himself in the position he now does is just beginning to sink in, said Perez, who recalled when he was a child there were very few Latinos serving in public office and there were no openly gay Latino lawmakers to speak of.

"I remember how historic it was to get the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors," said Perez, recalling Gloria Molina's election on February 19, 1991. "Growing up I never thought I would be able to serve. It is an amazing feeling to know it is possible."

Currently the political director for the United Food and Commercial Workers' union, Perez said his main concern once elected will be seeing that every Californian has access to health care and better-paying jobs.

Ma said she has known Perez through his labor activism and expects him to be a strong leader in the statehouse not just on labor and LGBT issues, but on numerous issues the state faces.

"I think John Perez will be a good addition to the Assembly," said Ma, who thanked the attendees for helping her "raise as much money as we can for John to get him into our leadership team." As of last week, Perez had reported raising more than $250,000 for his race.

Esther Lee, a lesbian aide to former state Senate President John Burton (D-San Francisco), said she has known Perez since 1998 when the two were involved in launching a statewide LGBT group that became Equality California.

"He is going to be awesome. There is no doubt about it," said Lee. "He already has the contacts and knows how to work the halls [of the statehouse.] I think the right-wingers have a lot to worry about."

Perez, who is single, is a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this August. A former John Edwards supporter, he said he remains undecided on whether to back Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

"Maybe I will decide before Denver but definitely not until after the last primary takes place," said Perez.

Labor groups back gay candidates

Perez's old employer, the California Labor Federation, recently announced its endorsements in numerous state legislative races on the June ballot. Several gay candidates made the list, including, to no one's surprise, Perez.

The federation is made up of more than 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions, representing 2.1 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries.

In the race to replace termed out Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) in the East Bay's 14th Assembly District, openly gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington picked up the labor group's backing as did two of his three opponents in the race: East Bay Regional Parks board member Nancy Skinner and Richmond City Councilman Tony Thurmond.

The federation also did a dual endorsement in the 80th Assembly District in Palm Springs between openly gay Cathedral City Councilman Greg Pettis and his main opponent in the race, Manuel Perez, a Coachella Valley Unified School District trustee.

Pettis this month also secured nods from the AFL-CIO's Committee on Public Education; the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees who represent 179,000 workers in California; the California State Council of Laborers; and Honor PAC, a statewide Latino group representing Latino and Latina LGBT communities.

Migden secured a sole endorsement from the group in her race, as did out lesbian state Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) and Assembly candidate San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano.

The group opted not to back West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon in his bid for the 8th Assembly District Seat, and instead, went with his opponent, Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. It also picked Bob Blumenfield over former Deputy State Controller Laurette Healey, an out lesbian, in the race for the 40th Assembly District seat in the San Fernando Valley.

Blumenfield, the district director for Congressman Howard L. Berman (D), has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) in the race. Healey did pick up the endorsement of the California Nurses Association.

Open your wallets and hearts

This week is a busy one for LGBT political watchers with several fundraisers planned for local candidates as well as a send off for Susan Leal, whom Mayor Gavin Newsom sacked earlier this year as general manager of the city's Public Utilities Commission.

First up is a fundraiser for Ammiano, who is termed off the board this year, for his bid in the 13th Assembly District. Running unopposed in the June Democratic primary, the standup comedian and former schoolteacher can basically laugh his way north to Sacramento, as he is all but assured victory come November.

But his backers are seeing to it that he lands in Sacto with a sizable war chest he can use to climb the Assembly's leadership ladder. As of mid-March, Ammiano had reported $210,015 in cash on hand in his campaign coffers.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and Equality California will fete Ammiano at a fundraiser Wednesday, April 16. The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Medjool, 2522 Mission Street. Entrance costs $75; $50 for Young Democrats members.

Across town that same night is a fundraiser for Victoria Kolakowski, a candidate for a judge seat in Alameda County. An openly transgender woman, and the domestic partner of B.A.R. news editor Cynthia Laird, Kolakowski also has been endorsed by the Victory Fund and EQCA's political action committee. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the home of Supervisor Bevan Dufty, 280 Waller Street.

Kolakowski recently picked up the backing of the East Bay Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club; San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy, and Gays and Lesbians Organized for Betterment and Equality (GLOBE). Kolakowski faces a formidable challenge beating frontrunner Dennis Hayashi, whose wife Mary, a Democratic state Assemblywoman from Hayward, recently infused his campaign coffers with $175,000 from her own campaign war chest.

In a note to supporters, Kolakowski, an administrative law judge for the state PUC, said the money she raises will be used to target female voters in the county, who are seen as being key to winning the seat. Should none of the four candidates in the race win outright with a majority of the votes in the June 3 election, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

"In June, and if necessary, in November, we will demonstrate to the world that the people of Alameda County will consider the experience and qualifications of a candidate and will elect a judge who will represent all of us," wrote Kolakowski.

The night of Thursday, April 17 will be the goodbye party for Leal, a former supervisor and city treasurer whom Newsom initially tapped to lead the PUC. Last fall Newsom called on all department heads to submit letters of resignation, and in December he asked for Leal to resign. He replaced her with openly gay City Controller Ed Harrington.

Leal refused, and the PUC members tossed her out of her job without cause in February. Having been hit by a car after leaving a meeting at City Hall in December, she has spent most of this year recovering from the injuries she sustained from the accident.

Friends and well-wishers will gather at 5:30 p.m. at Don Ramon's on 11th Street (South of Market) to celebrate Leal's long history of contributions to the city.

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