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Online Extra: Political Notes: Strong show of support for gay LA Assembly candidates

by Matthew S. Bajko

State Assembly candidate Luis Lopez, left, with his<br>partner, Hans Johnson. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
State Assembly candidate Luis Lopez, left, with his
partner, Hans Johnson. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Two gay candidates for the 51st Assembly District in Los Angeles are touting their strong show of support behind their bids for the open seat. Should either Luis Lopez or David Vela win the special election later this year, they would become the ninth member of the California LGBT Legislative Caucus.

Their election would mark a record number of out lawmakers serving in the Statehouse. There are currently four out Assembly members and four out state senators.

With Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday in a special runoff race for the 34th Congressional District seat that was vacated earlier this year by Xavier Becerra when he became the state's attorney general, the race to succeed Gomez began to heat up within hours of his victory. He defeated Korean-American Robert Lee Anh with nearly 61 percent of the vote, based on the unofficial returns Friday, June 9.

Once the results are certified and Gomez is sworn in as a member of the state's congressional delegation, Governor Jerry Brown will schedule the special election for his legislative seat. In addition to Lopez and Vela, four other Democratic candidates had announced their bids as of last week.

They are community activist Wendy Carrillo , who had also sought the congressional seat; dermatologist Ron Birnbaum; former Obama administration civil rights attorney Gabriel Sandoval , who serves on the state's Voting Modernization Board; and Franky Carrillo, no relation to Wendy Carrillo, who served 20 years in state prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Should no candidate in the race capture more than 50 percent of the vote then the top two vote-getters would advance to a special runoff election. The winner would need to seek a full two-year term next year and first run in the June primary. The top two vote-getters in that race, regardless of party affiliation, would then compete against each other on the November ballot.

Lopez, 44, is a longtime Democratic Party activist who lost his first Assembly bid in 2012 to Gomez. He had announced in early April he intended to seek the Assembly seat should Gomez be elected to Congress. The morning after last week's election, his campaign announced that he had amassed more than 100 local endorsers.

Among his LGBT supporters are Jackie Goldberg , the district's former Assemblywoman; the Reverend Troy Perry and his husband, Phillip de Blieck; and husbands Carl Johnson and Carl Matthes , officers of the Uptown Gay & Lesbian Alliance.

"Proud to be endorsed by more than 100 leaders throughout 51st District communities I have lived in & served for more than 15 years. Will you join them in helping to elect me this year to fight for us in the Assembly?" Lopez wrote in a Facebook post.

Vela, 42, an educator and co-founder of Honor PAC, lost his re-election bid in 2015 to a seat on the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education. He announced last Wednesday earning the endorsements of 51 community leaders, including that of gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), for his Assembly campaign.

'I'm running for the California State Assembly to continue the good work that state Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez has focused on in the state legislature, including helping to lead the resistance against Donald Trump," stated Vela, whose platform includes a single-payer healthcare system in the state, free community college, and building more affordable housing.

He also wants to ban fracking and promote the use of renewable energy. Enhancing California's education system is another top priority for Vela, who wants to hire more classroom teachers in order to shrink class sizes.

A native Angeleno, Vela has worked for a number of former politicians, including Goldberg, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina , and Governor Gray Davis . He is currently a senior vice president at the Lee Andrews Group, a minority- and women-owned public outreach firm in downtown Los Angeles and a professor at East Los Angeles College.

"I plan to run a grassroots driven, people and community-powered campaign, that's competitive, aggressive, and heavily focused on neighborhood level issues, districtwide issues and policies that impact our state as a whole," stated Vela, who was born to a single mother and raised part-time by his grandmother in the district.

The 51st Assembly District includes the LGBT-friendly neighborhoods of Eagle Rock and Echo Park as well as a portion of Silver Lake, historically one of Los Angeles' LGBT enclaves. It also covers El Sereno, Highland Park, Mount Washington, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Elysian Valley, Angeleno Heights, Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, Solano Canyon, Historic Filipinotown, City Terrace, Unincorporated East L.A., Garvanza, University Hills, Hermon, Montecito Heights, and Monterey Hills.

Lopez and his partner of 13 years, Hans Johnson , moved into the district when he first ran for the seat. Their former Silver Lake home ended up in a neighboring Assembly district where several incumbent lawmakers also landed through the decennial redistricting process for legislative seats.

A founder and past president of the Latino LGBT activist group Honor PAC, Lopez is a director at City of Hope comprehensive cancer center and a longtime board officer of Planned Parenthood-Los Angeles. From 2008 to 2013, he served as president of the East Area Planning Commission of the City of L.A. and is now vice president of The Eagle Rock Association, a local neighborhood preservationist group known as TERA for short.

In last June's primary election, the progressive Democrat placed first in the contest for seven seats from the 51st Assembly District on the Central Committee of the L.A. County Democratic Party. Lopez's campaign noted in its media release last Wednesday that it was buoyed by "Gomez's decisive victory" because he racked up "huge margins in Eagle Rock and Highland Park," two neighborhoods where Lopez has "strong, local community support."

Wendy Carrillo, who came to the U.S. as an undocumented child, is a journalist and labor activist. She also has drawn support from the LGBT community in Los Angeles.

"I've been on the frontlines of environmental justice, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration rights and social justice movements," stated Carrillo in formally announcing her bid last Wednesday. "I will fight for gender pay equity, sexual assault prevention, and against domestic violence."

Birnbaum, a Navy veteran who with his wife is raising three children in the district, also mentions his support for LGBT issues on his campaign website.

"As the son of Argentinian immigrants, I want to protect what California and this nation have given me: a chance to freely pursue the American Dream," stated Birnbaum.

Sandoval could prove to be a formidable opponent if he is able to tap into his contacts from his time in the Obama administration as well as from when he worked for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as his deputy legal counsel. A partner at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, Sandoval's maternal grandparents emigrated from Mexico in the 1950s to the Elysian Hills neighborhood of the Assembly district. 

He was raised in Cypress Park and has lived in the district for nearly 30 years. Sandoval also has Bay Area ties, having earned a B.A. with departmental honors in political science from Stanford University.

"I'm running for the State Assembly because our community deserves a fighter who can hit the ground running when it comes to standing up to the Trump administration and advocating for our community's interests and values," stated Sandoval.

In a statement he released last week, Franky Carrillo said he decided to enter the race because he knows "firsthand what it means to face hardship, and how important it is to know you have an advocate in your corner."


The Political Notes column will be on hiatus until Monday, July 31.


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail



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