John Jiménez may be a familiar face to longtime residents of City Council District 14 –he ran unsuccessfully against incumbent José Huízar in 2005 and 2007.
At 78, Jiménez is the oldest candidate on the March 3 ballot for CD14. The Eagle Rock resident is one of two candidates born and raised in Boyle Heights. In a lengthy interview with Boyle Heights Beat, Jiménez touted his decades-long experience in nonprofit organizations, involvement in the Chicano movement and even a stint as a concert promoter, and asserted that although he does not have a fundraising operation or active social media, he wants to make a difference at City Hall.
The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Boyle Heights Beat: Why did you decide to run for city council? What are your qualifications?
John Jiménez: I have better [qualifications] than what you could ever think of. […]
[I was] part of the Chicano community movement [in the 1970s]. We had all kinds of marches and protests. [One day] the founder of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation came to my door and knocked. He said, “You know who’s at your doorstep?” And I go, “Why should I care for who’s on my doorstep? Who are you?” “Dionisio Morales.” “I don’t even know who you are.” He was like, “I’m from the [MAOF].” I didn’t know it existed. So we met, he sat down.
I was on welfare at that time. I was in state rehab… unemployed. I was volunteering my services to the community and so they say “we are going to offer you a job”. I said “job?” “Yeah, training. We’re going to pay $2.10 an hour. And it’s called a new careers program.” I had never heard about it. The training was supposed to be three years, but it went to four years because I was hard headed, you know, all gang banging talk and all that stuff, because I was pretty mad. After a while, I started learning that education was what I needed.
My first year at ELAC, I was getting a bunch of F’s and the dean didn’t want me there no more. So then my state rehab counselor says “You’re never going to be doing anything with your life… because you’re a rebel, you’re against the system and all this stuff.” “Well, you know what? I’m going to make something out of myself.” It took me not two years. It took me three years to graduate from ELAC and they were going to go ahead and take everything away for me. But you know, I said “I have children. I have two kids to think about.” So I graduate from ELAC with 3.2 and so from there… I’m the only son from my family that ever graduated from college. I was really proud and then [went on] to Cal State Long Beach. All that learning… I suddenly became a greater and bigger leader of the community back at that time. That’s when [I was one of the founders] of Operation Youth Educational Services, and that organization did a lot of things for the barrio.
I know how to administrate an organization, I always use the money wisely. I learned how to be humble, and how to be kind and loving and caring. And that’s what I’m all about. But these [current] elected officials are not there, they’re in it for their selves.
BHB: As someone who’s running to be a city council member, how would you describe District 14?
“I know how to administrate an organization, I always use the money wisely. I learned how to be humble, and how to be kind and loving and caring. And that’s what I’m all about.”John Jiménez
JJ: District 14 is a real nice area. It has different lifestyles, different manners. Boyle Heights is grass roots. Its, you know, live day by day. The children growing there, they’re becoming a little smarter, they’re getting better than their parents and that is a plus. But if you compare Boyle Heights with Eagle Rock, there’s no comparison. The homes in Eagle Rock are better and cost more. The children are more educated over there. Now you take another area, El Sereno is a little more than Boyle Heights but, still, Boyle Heights is a lot more than Skid Row, a lot more. And then gangs, you have gangs up practically in every block from Mission all the way to Lorena. From Valley all the way to Washington, you have multiple gangs in there. So all these programs getting funded for gang reduction, why aren’t they doing their job? I would go ahead and administrate and I’ll hold every nonprofit organization accountable. If you’re not doing the job right, let somebody else who can do the job right. I’m not one to feel sad, “oh, you’re nonprofit.” No, I ran nonprofit operations with kids that are now either police officers or probation officers… So you know, administration, I know. I ran a $1.5 million operation, I had 300 cholos working for me from different rival gangs and there was peace, peace! A lot of [the older] politicians, they know me, know that I could operate and function effectively in City Hall and clean house and stop [the] backdoor deals.
BHB: How has your experience living in Boyle Heights and being part of the Chicano Movement shaped your outlook and how will it help you as a councilman in District 14?
A lot, because if there were no [Movement, I would probably be in prison. I was a street hood from Primera Midget Dukes. We were doing everything wrong. Nothing right. So when I joined in, I started getting a little more understanding of the system.
I run to make a difference. So you’ll have a future. So if you want to become a congresswoman, or you want to become a state senator, assemblywoman you don’t need to have that big budget. The Ethics Commission should make it affordable for everybody to [run], you don’t have to be raising $80,000 to match three or four times. They should make it like, “Hey, you can put no more than $200,000 in this campaign. That’s it.” They don’t do that.
BHB: If you were elected, what specific issues would you address right away?
JJ: I would first investigate. I would find out from the people exactly what they feel about [an issue,] if it’s pertaining to property, if it’s pertaining to business, if it is pertaining to school. I want to know more about it, how it’s going to affect the people, how it is going to affect the teenagers and the kids that come in the future. This is what we have to look at. Rent control has been a joke, because there should have been a sliding scale. If you make $600 a month, then why should you pay half of your salary? They should be paying like maybe $100 or $200 something. But you know, the developers have control over this stuff. That’s what it’s all about.
“I run to make a difference. So you’ll have a future. So if you want to become a congresswoman, or you want to become a state senator, assemblywoman you don’t need to have that big budget.”John Jiménez
BHB: There are a lot of concerns about affordable housing and homelessness. What is your specific plan to resolve these issues?
JJ: There’s so many things. [Former mayor] Tom Bradley got billions of dollars. What happened to that project that was supposed to be in South Los Angeles, for the homeless, and for all other low-income people? You know what happened? It came downtown. That’s why that big skyscraper is there. The contractors, developers were afraid to have it at South Central, so they brought it to downtown LA. That’s where the money came from. That money is swallowed up by different pockets.
BHB: What specific plans do you have, because it is a big problem, especially affecting CD 14?
JJ: My plan is to become a city councilman for 14th district. I’m going to go ahead, I’m going to do an audit all the way back to Tom Bradley. I want to know where this money went to for our homeless for all houses. For all the education I want to know what’s been dipping into it. If there’s any fraud I will press charges. Now, once we get through that hurdle, then go ahead, now we got clean money, we can put a freeze on salaries in every department, because that’ll be bringing in more money. And we’re going to go and find out how much property the city owns, and controls, and it’s not using, because that’s what prevents them, they could have had money to do all that but they pocket it, they abuse it. We need to have transparency. So in order to have affordable housing I will do a sliding wage, and lock that for two years, and again, do a reevaluation. If they get better jobs, or if you had an increase, then we’ll go according to salary. Let’s tear down the old [housing] projects that we have and let’s convert them into better modern projects. Anything that the city owns, or even the LA housing owns, we need to convert that to better livable suitable housing… Rats! We got to get rid of them. My wife got scared. We’re walking at Skid Row this past Saturday, and they were coming out of the sidewalk under the cracks, a bunch of rats. I go “Wow, homeless live in tents, live in that.” No one’s done anything about it.
That same sidewalk that cracked and a lady died from walking and nobody ever took care of it all the way back from when I was seven years old. I remember my dad say “¿Cuándo van a arreglar este cemento” I was seven years old, and it’s still the same. It hasn’t changed. Kevin [De León] don’t know anything about that. Neither does Mónica [García]. Those are people that have been in office, any they did not do their job right. They love and chase the money.
BHB: You have expressed some concerns about Mónica García and Kevin de León as candidates. Why is that specifically?
JJ: The thing is, when somebody has an office, they know where the money’s at. They know how to do things. They know how to fund legal things, they move everything around. They go green in there. So how they end up being corrupted is by allowing the others to corrupt them and don’t stand firm. Because I know people are fed up with taxes. People are fed up with homelessness. People are fed up and being pushed from one house to another, look at what happened to Chavez Ravine. I’ll never forget it. I had friends there too.
Mónica was doing what they did to Chavez Ravine at the corner of César Chávez, between Lorena and Indiana, where a supermarket is at. All of those houses around there [were going to be demolished for a school]. When I found out about it, I fought, and guess what, if I didn’t fight, those people would have been wiped out. The school would have been built there when the school [district has] other properties. And she told me you’re not going to win. Well, I surprised her, I won.
But every debate we have there’s always control when I say something about that, “Oh, Mr. Jimenez, you’re out of order.” People need to know the truth. Where’s the fact? Where’s the truth? Where’s the story? It’s not anymore like it use to be, with the East Side Sun and [other] newspapers, nothing like it used to be. The truth came out, the facts came out, and [there was] transparency. That’s why the best councilman we ever had was Edward Roybal. And he was good also as congressman.
BHB: What do you plan to do to advocate for immigrants’ rights?
JJ: The only thing I could do is gather people, educate them, prepare them [to] invoke the right way, because the city councilman has no authority of anything of that. Who has authority over that is the federal level. A state senator nor a state assembly person cannot do anything about it. It all comes from the federal level. What we could do is educate, prepare, and do something that’s going to be in harmony, not just raza, we’re gonna have to get the Asians ready, get the African Americans, we have to get all these other people together along everybody. The thing is that we don’t know how to unite and backup each other. We’re always ready to throw stones, or throw rocks or riot. It’s not going to happen. I was in those days. The only thing is those days are gone. We cannot go around rioting again and looting. We’re hurting our own community. People want to buy homes in those areas. This changing transformation is going on. Boyle Heights used to be peaceful. I remember we could leave the doors open. Our own raza, they don’t stand up and fight for us and fight the right thing. Because when you promise something to the people, you keep the promise, you don’t turn around and break that promise. So you know, if everything was transparent, we would have housing. We’d have the homeless off the streets. We will have better education for our kids. Just like where I met you…
BHB: At the Méndez High School debate.
JJ: That school is a prime example. That school is a partnership school. Now, who put it together? Mónica did it with the help of Antonio Villaraigosa, it’s her baby. Why? Because she named it after her parents’ name. That’s why I will never do that. Conflict of interest, it’s named after her parents. Look at her mother’s maiden name, look and [you] might find something in there.
BHB: From what we know the school was named after an important civil rights case. The school was named after the Méndez family because their daughter was not allowed to go to an all-white school.
JJ: From what I understand is that it was actually a conflict. That’s why at the debate I said: “This is a conflict of interest, because this was her baby. This was her baby and why Roosevelt doesn’t have mariachis. Why does Roosevelt no longer have folklórico when it used to have before? Why is it no longer there? If Mónica has done so good for all the schools, then why some schools don’t have what this school has? And Bravo’s another good school… we have to give credit where it’s due. That’s all I gotta say.
BHB: At the Méndez forum you said that students at schools like Roosevelt and Garfield do not receive the necessary education that prepares them for college. So how would you ensure that schools in the community will have a quality education?
JJ: This is what is happening [at] Operation YES, right now. I’m an administrator of that. We’re going to select certain elementary schools, six years old. And we’re going to go ahead and prepare them. And we’re going to carry them from there, to middle school, from middle school to high school, the same group, we’re going to do a study, and we’re going to show that our way is a better way than the system that the school has. That’s the beautiful part about it. And they’re right there.
If you go to China, it’s not going to be about playing games. They’re going to be learning about technology, they don’t have time for boyfriend or girlfriend. When they already got their education, they get their career, then they start getting that marriage and that promise, and what do they give the families of China? They don’t give them cobijas, they don’t give them cotton pants. They give them gold. Why? So they can make a life for themselves. They get well educated, that’s what we need. We need to start working with six-year-old kids.
BHB: If you become a city council member, how do you plan on establishing this plan of yours throughout District 14?
JJ: Like I said, selecting certain schools, six-year-old kids and work with them. Let me tell you, at [Méndez] one parent came up to me and said “My son graduated from here, but he couldn’t get it into East LA college because he didn’t earn enough credits.” And I go, “Why didn’t you tell me that before? I would have brought it up.” And this other man comes up and he said he wrote a book. I say, “Why do you come to me?” “Because I know where your heart is at.”
We need to be transparent. This road is very, very important. Because if we don’t vote right, we’re gonna have another two, three, five decades of the same thing.
BHB: How do you plan on being transparent if you win CD 14?
JJ: That’s easy. If I see something is not right, and it’s not going my way, I’m going to send out letters to all the voters and let them know what’s going on. I need their support. The news media has power. So if I expose something on 14 that’s not right and it’s being done by votes from the other council districts and it comes on news media, what are the constituents going to say about that? “Oh well he’s right. He has a point here.” And then they’re gonna start talking to their office and their office, we have to turn around and change that. And whatever happens in 14th district, it will happen in other areas as well.
BHB: You are not active in social media and are still in the process of creating a website. How do you hope to get the word out to voters?
JJ: I don’t know. I really don’t. The only thing I have is people praying for me. And if this becomes a miracle, through social media, passing a word about me, and all that, then it’s going to be good. But I do know that at every debate I [notified] all the TV stations, all the radio stations and newspapers. And unfortunately, that did not develop at all. As soon as there’s a killing, or immigration problem, or hit and run, they’re all there, but they’re not covering the problems in the 14th district. For example, I [distributed] up 500 flyers in Boyle Heights. Did it on Saturday. Well, we had the press conference on Sunday at one o’clock. Channel 34 shows up. Do you think that 500 people came? No, a handful, about a dozen.
I don’t have an answer. I know that all this time since I’ve been running Operation YES, I gave and did not ask for anything in return. I gave and the reason why is because people are not concerned about politics. They’re tired. They’re not even going to vote anymore. They’re tired.
BHB: What would you do specifically to outreach to these voters that are not willing to vote because of politics?
JJ: I’m trying. I’m knocking on doors and all that. And I even dropped off papers at Skid Row for voters to register. If I make it in this office, I’m going to go ahead and convince people to register and vote and get prepared for a better future. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to rally. I’m going to hold demonstrations.
BHB: One last question. One of the big problems in Boyle Heights and other surrounding communities is the environment. Our high schools are surrounded by major freeways, and there are a lot of related health problems. What plan do you have to help with this problem?
JJ: Well, I don’t have a magic wand.
BHB: But do you have any particular plan regarding the environment?
JJ: There’s a plan I’d like to address. Before, we had streetcars and I don’t know if your parents ever told you about it, but they were these cars that had the rails, and it was electrical, there was no pollution. The pollution was the cars, the trucks, everything else. So I would say, if we can get something that’s more into the future of solar, I would love to see every home have solar and control those high bills, because the gas company is not part of the city, but the DWP is a nonprofit owned by the City of Los Angeles, and they’re treating us like if they were innocent. They’re not, and they’re getting a lot of big payroll. So we have to get rid of pollution by having cars that were either electric or have cars with lower emission.
I don’t know all these answers to be honest with you, but I do know that I have to investigate people that are engineers, people that are scientists, to see what the solution is because one magic wand doesn’t fit for everybody. You know, Eagle Rock doesn’t want to change their lifestyle. They want to keep it really nice cozy and all that, I don’t blame them. But Boyle Heights cannot go down. I was born and raised here and it’s been neglected over and over, it’s a stomping ground for people that want to win an office. They use Boyle Heights, they use El Sereno, that’s the sad part about it. And you know what? I believe that you youngsters that are going to college can do a network together to make these changes.
I’m not fabricating any facts. If I get this I don’t care about the salary, to be honest with you. I could maybe even give that to a church or maybe I’ll go ahead and give it to orphan kids where they need it. I’m happy cause God’s gift was good with me. So it’s not about the money, it is about the corazón que tengo. I will not kneel, I’d rather die at my feet than kneel. That’s how I am.
Reporter Noemí Pedraza contributed to this story.