Now that Gloria Molina has made history by becoming the first Latino member this century on the powerful County Board of Supervisors, six candidates are trying to make a little history of their own by vying for the seat she vacated on the Los Angeles City Council.
Voters in the 1st District will go to the polls June 4 to select someone to serve until 1993, which is the remainder of Molina's unexpired term. If no candidate gets at least 50% of the votes, a runoff election will be held later.
The district, carved out in the mid-1980s as a result of a Justice Department lawsuit that charged that Latinos' voting power was being diluted, is considered the second poorest of the city's 15 council districts.
It is largely a Latino constituency defined by populous poor immigrant neighborhoods of Pico-Union, Westlake Park and Echo Park and the working-class areas of Cypress Park and Highland Park. Although they make up about 73% of the district's 233,000 residents, Latinos make up a small portion of the area's 38,000 registered voters.
Molina, who carried her council district by a wide margin in her supervisorial campaign against state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), is expected to play a pivotal role in the election.
An endorsement from her could be a decisive factor, many in the district believe.
One of Molina's closest advisers in the successful supervisorial effort, Olvera Street restaurateur Vivien Bonzo, 33, considered running for the seat and took out nominating papers. But she ultimately decided against the race, believing that she needed more time to organize a campaign.
She said she decided to concentrate her efforts as president of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn. to fight for a sensitive preservation of the historic Mexican-theme tourist spot.
Bonzo also said she would have had to give up her home in the San Gabriel Valley city of Azusa to move into the district.
One candidate, Cypress Park insurance agent Mike Hernandez, 38, is banking on his longtime support of Molina in past campaigns to help him. A lifetime resident of the area, Hernandez is not afraid to repeat the often-heard Molina pledge to "hold government accountable."
"Gloria was known for fighting for issues of fairness and safety, and I believe in the same kind of issues," he said.
To ensure that the district gets better police protection, Hernandez said he favors the establishment of a single police station to patrol the 1st District. The district is now part of six different police stations.
Another Latino with some name identification seeking the seat is 37-year-old Sandra L. Figueroa, executive director of El Centro del Pueblo in Echo Park.
According to Rick Taylor, her campaign consultant, Figueroa is making it a point to remind voters that she is not tied to Molina or any other special interest at City Hall. "She is truly an independent voice," he said. "That's why she entered the race."
Figueroa, who has headed the Echo Park social service center for the last 15 years, is against overdevelopment in the district, pointing out that the Central City West project may not be in the best interests of the district's residents, Taylor said.
The four other candidates who have filed nomination petitions are: Caesar Kenneth Aguirre, financial consultant; Sharon Mee Yung Lowe, community activist and attorney; Frank Juarez Foster, businessman and housing advocate, and Maria Elizabeth Munoz, bilingual teacher.
1st District at a Glance
The 1st City Council District, in the heart of central Los Angeles, is one of the oldest and poorest of the city. Residents of the 1st District, which stretches from Pico Union just west of downtown to the northeast Highland Park area, have one of the lowest median household incomes in the city: about $16,000 a year. About one-fifth of the housing units are owner-occupied and the remainder are rented. About 73% of the residents are Latino, with Asians making up 18%, Anglos 7% and blacks 2%.