Gloria Molina became the first Latino on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this century and the first woman ever elected to the powerful body. Molina defeated her onetime boss, state Sen. Art Torres, 55.4% to 44.6%, in a Feb. 19 special election in the new 1st District.
The new district was created by a federal judge who ruled that the old supervisorial district boundaries discriminated against the county's Latinos, diluting their voting power by spreading the community among three districts.
Molina, a 42-year-old Mexican-American whose father was a laborer, took office March 7, joining fellow Democrats Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn in forming a new liberal majority on the five-member board.
The feisty, five-foot-tall Molina, who in 1982 was the first Latina elected to the state Legislature, and in 1987 the first elected to the Los Angeles City Council, is expected to become one of the most visible Latino politicians in the country. A successor to Molina on the City Council will be chosen in a June 4 special election.
Molina has pledged, among other things, to push for expansion of the Board of Supervisors from five to seven members, campaign contribution limits, hiring and promotion of more Latino county employees, steering more business to firms owned by minorities or women, and increased funding for health and welfare programs.
Here are excerpts of an interview with Times staff writer Richard Simon, in which she reflects on some issues and the significance of her victory:
Q: How does your election promise to change county government as it affects the county's 3 million Latinos?
A: Well, first of all, I think that my election will give an opportunity for a Latino voice on issues which will hopefully raise a different perspective on how services are administered. We'll discuss certain concerns that probably weren't part of the discussions in the past. And certainly we'll raise issues about parity and opportunity where we have intentionally been excluded from the process.
Q: What are your immediate goals?
A: The immediate goals, of course, are to . . . function effectively with all the rest of the supervisors. But I made commitments during this election that were important . . . that is, to open up that system. . . . I think that we need to discuss the expansion of the board . . . and then I would like to see it coupled with ethics reform and campaign reform.
Q: Do you have any special plans for unincorporated areas, such as East Los Angeles?
A: No. Other than probably putting together a hearing like I would like to do in all the other cities and areas. . . . There was a time when they (many East Los Angeles residents) wanted to incorporate. I don't have a problem with that, but it has to be practical and a reasonable proposal. So I'm willing to consider it. But I think the first thing is to sit a bunch of people down . . . and see what they would like to change and what would be effective for them.
Q: Do you need to change your style to be effective on the Board of Supervisors?
A: As I've always approached it, I like to sit down with each person and discuss my proposal. I don't make assumptions that they're necessarily going to support it or not support it. Now, I am willing to listen to what their concerns are with regard to proposals that I have.
Q: How do you deal with getting rid of graffiti?
A: I think that graffiti has gotten to crisis proportions in L.A. County. And I think it'd be worthwhile for (the state Legislature) to permit us to implement a ban (on spray paint) to see whether it would eliminate that kind of a problem.
Q: There are very high expectations of you, especially in the Latino community. How do you plan to fulfill those expectations?
A: Believe me, there's no doubt about it. When I went to Disneyland, I bumped into people from Inglewood, who said to me, "Oh we're so excited that you got elected. We've been waiting for someone like you, because we have so many issues in our community that we need to talk to you about." And I said I don't represent Inglewood. And they said, 'Why not?' It's sort of like you represent everybody who is Hispanic, and you really can't turn around and say I don't represent Inglewood because in reality I guess I do, for people who've been excluded from the process. And so there is, there's gonna be huge expectations and very frankly, the first thing that I need to do is to get myself organized and get a system in place to meet the needs of the constituents of the 1st District.
Q: How do your parents feel about your accomplishment?
A: It's been very, very special. My dad was very proud of me. You know I met his expectations, let's say, when I became a secretary. So I think it just keeps adding on. But what's been great about this election more so than the other is that my family got so involved, the entire family. (Four) brothers and (five) sisters. You know 'cause now the youngest ones are 23 years old, the twins, and every one was a part of this campaign.