Why I believe progressives should support Gil Cedillo on May 16.
I’ve been pretty silent on the turbulent CD1 council race, but with only 4 days to election day, I can no longer hold my peace.
If you’ve followed the race, it reads like a political soap opera. But beyond the drama, simplified portraits of the candidates are being painted that are at best, inaccurate. I wanted to inject my perspective because choosing a candidate to support is an important decision and it behooves the voter to have access to all available knowledge and points of view.
As an “outsider” candidate myself in the District 13 race, there has been a purveying assumption that all of us outsiders across the various races would be in alignment. This perspective is incredibly over-simplified and limiting as if the politics and principles of every candidate who has never held public office should automatically be more closely aligned to mine than any current officeholder.
It’s just not that simple. And neither is the belief that someone “new” is the answer to all of our problems.
I’ve had a chance to meet and interact with both Gilbert Cedillo and Joe Bray-Ali, although more-so with the current Council-member. I want to share the experiences I have had with both so that I may add nuance and my perspective on this contentious race.
I met Joe Bray-Ali, when another former CD13 candidate invited him to my campaign office after the March 7th election for a meeting of the “opposition”. I remember sensing an unspoken tension which finally made sense to me when he accepted Council-member Mitch O’Farrell’s endorsement. But here Bray-Ali was, sitting in my office in a vain attempt of commiseration over shared frustrations about how to mount effective challenges to incumbents. Joe not only later gleefully accepted the O’Farrell endorsement but heaped praise on Mitch, citing “shared values” while dismissing the very reasons why most of us CD13 challengers entered the race to begin with.
Mitch O’Farrell is known for a far more toxic brand of politics…one that seeks to ignore and quiet all dissent. So, while recent alarming comments made online by Joe Bray-Ali have exposed a side of him that is virtually impossible to reconcile; for me and many others, Joe lost credibility the moment he quickly tossed aside his “outsider” status for a seat at the insider table. He unequivocally embraced Mitch O’Farrell, citing and complimenting his values and effectiveness, while completely ignoring the inherent contradiction in the fact that while Bray-Ali criticizes Cedillo’s leadership, O’Farrell has a far worse record supporting policies that gentrify, criminalize the homeless and people of color, and of oh… taking developer money. While I have heard that Ali’s justification for accepting the endorsement was a political calculation, that only exacerbates my initial feeling of distrust.
When you take that feeling and add it to the litany of anecdotes that I have personally heard from people I trust who have crossed paths with Bray-Ali over the course of his years of bike lane advocacy, and describe encounters with him that included bullying and intimidation for daring to disagree, that distrust becomes a problem. Sure, as a candidate he’s been offering neatly packaged sound bites saying the things that people want to hear. But his willingness to be politically calculating calls into question his sincerity. Arguably the most important quality that an elected official must possess is the ability to listen and hear the voices of people with varying perspectives. This is a quality that I worry is seriously lacking in Joe Bray-Ali.
During my last few years as an activist, I have spent a considerable amount of time going down to city hall to advocate for better housing policy so I can empathize with the frustration that is often expressed over whether anyone on the council is even listening to the 60 seconds of commentary that constituents wait sometimes 3 hours to make.
On the evening of Renter’s Day last year (April 2016), after attending and speaking in support of Ellis reform along with nearly 100 others at the meeting of the Housing Committee, which Cedillo chairs, I ran into the Council-member. I was surprised to run into him at the event launch of the Bernie Sanders CA HQ and was even more surprised that he remembered me out of a sea of people at City Hall that day. But what impressed me the most is that he recalled a comment made by someone in my group whose girlfriend was being evicted by the Ellis Act while she was battling Stage 4 cancer. It had really struck a chord with him. He was actually listening.
A few months later in June, I went before the PLUM committee on my appeal of a precedent-setting and contentious hotel conversion of an 18-unit building in CD13 that was taken off the market under the Ellis Act. 50 % of the tenants received no relocation money and 2 people had become homeless. Cedillo, who sits on the PLUM committee did something almost unheard of. Moved by the public testimony, he declared his support for the appeal. That move was so significant, that it garnered numerous news stories in the Los Angeles Times and led to a media firestorm that ultimately resulted in significant policy changes and funding for a legal challenge to the project, which unfortunately had gotten pushed through with O’Farrell’s insistence.
Finally, in July of 2016, I was invited to attend the DNC as a guest of the Bernie Sanders campaign. There, I bumped into Cedillo again who was attending as a California delegate for Bernie. He was very personable and greeted me as warmly as I watched him greet his old comrades, Jesse Jackson and Chuy Garcia. The convention provided me a unique opportunity for a candid discussion on a range of issues facing LA-most notably housing and displacement. While we didn’t always agree on policy, Cedillo earned my respect for his willingness to engage in discussion and did not attempt to run away or shut me down. And he never has in any of our interactions since then. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have strong opinions and am not afraid to express them. And yet this has never been off-putting to the Council-member. In all my interactions, I have always felt respected and heard, a far cry from the picture that Joe Bray-Ali has painted. And a very far cry from my experience with Mitch O’Farrell.
I’ve watched the media and even the “progressive” Bernie community throw Cedillo under the bus- in some capacity fairly challenging his position on issues, but unfairly assassinating his character just for the mere fact that he is an incumbent. And frankly, I am appalled.
Is the bar such that we demand a lifetime of political perfection or we throw our progressive leaders under the bus without a second chance?
Do we, as community members look at our role in making sure that we support the movement and provide a fair and balanced account of who is and isn’t moving it forward and acknowledge the work that has been done?
Do we only evaluate our electeds on their shortcomings or do we look at their record and determine to encourage those who have shown long-standing commitment to advancing progressive values and issues of social justice, to be better on the issues where we find fault?
If you are still unsure of Cedillo’s character or core values, I offer you this to chew on: this is a person who has spent practically his entire career and enormous political capital fighting for immigrants’ rights at a time when it was not a popular issue. He fought on behalf of a constituency that can’t even vote for him.
And if that isn’t enough- his early and unmitigated support for Bernie Sanders is another clear example of character. For those suffering from memory loss, I’d like to remind you that two years ago, when Bernie declared his candidacy, and before he was the modern day political equivalent of John Lennon- he and all of his supporters were marginalized and discredited as fringe. And the repercussions for politicians going against the Clinton political machine were undeniable.
Any calculated politico who cared about their career wouldn’t dare cross the Clinton picket line into Sanders territory. It was practically political suicide. Even beloved progressive Elizabeth Warren didn’t go there. But Cedillo did. He was the ONLY one out of our supposedly progressive, 15-member city council- who not only supported Bernie, but championed him; going out on the campaign trail as a surrogate to dispel the white, Bernie-bro myth and sway the Latino vote in his favor. It takes ENORMOUS character to do what is NOT politically expedient.
There is strength for all of us in the progressive movement to find a much more nuanced approach in advancing our cause. If something is broken, the answer isn’t always to throw it out for something shiny and new. Especially if there is reason to believe we can fix it. Much of the criticism being levied at Cedillo by his challenger can be addressed through structural changes to the way the CD1 office is managed so that it is more responsive, which I have heard the Council-member has committed to doing. On other issues…I encourage progressives to engage Cedillo on the issues that matter to you. You might be surprised that he listens.
For those of you concerned with the influence of money in the political process, the best antidote to making sure that developer and other worrisome “interests” don’t drown out community voices, is by showing up and giving your time when it counts. And that time is now.
So I call on my fellow progressives and “Berniecrats” to come out and support someone with a long history of fighting for social justice causes, not because it was popular but because it was the right thing to do. Now is not the time to sacrifice one of the most reliable progressive voices on the council because we are mad at the establishment. That is the wrong thing to do.
If you’re waiting to find a candidate with whom you agree 100% of the time, you’re likely to be disappointed. Electeds can always change their positions. But what informs those decisions are their principles and core values. I’ll take policy disagreements over bad character any day of the week. And based on those merits-the way I see it- in this race Gil Cedillo is the clear front-runner.
Here is a video that was made by the National Hispanic Media Coalition about the Council-member that gives a little more historical perspective…
For those of you who’d like to join me, I’ll be supporting the progressive agenda in solidarity with Our Revolution, by walking precincts for Gil Cedillo starting Saturday, May 13th at 10am to get out the vote.
In solidarity, Sylvie
Gil Cedillo GOTV May 13–16th
Westlake HQ:1139 W 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90017
Highland Park Office: 5605 N Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90042