Less than a year ago, Gloria Molina was pondering retirement after three decades of public service ”“doing volunteer work and taking a cruise with her Chicana quilters group.
But then, she said, people began asking her to enter the race for the 14th district seat on the Los Angeles City Council.
“I thought I’d do some new things, reinvent myself as they say,” said Molina, 66, whose familiar streak of white hair is now dyed purple. “I really was encouraged by a lot of people, some in the district, some outside, who thought I should continue in public policy and public issues.”
Molina recalled that as Los Angeles County Supervisor, she often heard from CD14 residents who complained that Councilman José Huízar was unresponsive to their concerns.
Termed out of her County seat, Molina moved out of her longtime Mount Washington residence and bought a house in El Sereno. In September, she filed papers to run for city council.
In an interview with Boyle Heights Beat this week, Molina said that one of the reasons she decided to challenge Huízar was that she felt neighborhoods like El Sereno and Boyle Heights were being neglected by the councilman.
“[Boyle Heights] is one of the most unclean parts of the district,” she said. “It has more trash in the alleys, there is more disrepair of the sidewalks [in this area] than other parts of town.”
Molina is one of four candidates trying to unseat Huízar in the March 3 election. Although her 23-year tenure on the County made her one of the most powerful politicians in the region, she faces an incumbent with a well-established political machine whose campaign contributions cuadruple her own. Not that Molina ”“who has earned a reputation as a feisty fighter for her causes”“ is not up to the challenge.
Molina grew up with her Mexican American family in Pico Rivera and was influenced by the Chicano and Women movements of the 60s and 70s while going to school at Rio Hondo College, East Los Angeles College and Cal State LA.
“I was always involved in campaigns and got involved in organizing chicanas and their rights,” she recalled. “Somewhere, a part of me gravitated to that.”
She supported herself as a legal secretary while in college and once interviewed with labor leader César Chávez’s legal team, but chose instead to work as chief deputy for State Assemblyman Art Torres and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
She served in the Carter White House before first being elected to the State Assembly in 1982 and the Los Angeles City Council in 1987 ”“both times becoming the first Latina to do so. Her organizing skills served to establish her reputation in the state legislature, when she helped form the Mothers of East Los Angeles, a group that successfully fought against the construction of a jail in that neighborhood.
Molina became the first woman elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1991. Her accomplishments while there include the construction of the light rail Gold Line that runs through Boyle Heights and the East Los Angeles Civic Center, as well as the new, $1 billion LAC-USC Medical Center.
But besides her sometimes jarring style, some detractors point to her votes on the board to penalize taco trucks in the unincorporated areas of the county and to deny East Los Angeles residents a vote on city incorporation. Some, including Huizar, say her support of a policy that allowed the Sheriff’s Department to screen detainees for immigration status resulted in the deportation of people stopped for minor infractions.
She is also being criticized for seeking a new elected position while receiving a large pension from the county.
In a flyer mailed this week to constituents, Molina said she would cut her expected $184,600 yearly salary in half and dedicate the remaining funds to city services. She also took a jab at Huízar, criticizing his spending on staff and for costing the city nearly $400,000 to settle a lawsuit involving a car accident and to pay for his defense against a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee which was settled at no additional cost to the city.
On the campaign trail, Molina said, she discovered how “absolutely difficult it is to run against city hall and an incumbent,” but that has only helped her to refocus her strategy.
“Now I’m even more energized and feel stronger than ever that I’m the appropriate person to represent this community,” she said.