I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County, in the district formerly represented by now Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Like me, 60 percent of the residents of Congressional District 32 are Latino. That didn’t stop my mother and I both from voting for a Chinese-American, Judy Chu, when she ran and re-ran for Monterey Park City Council in the 80s and 90s. Nor, by the way, did it stop then-Assemblymember and Latina Hilda Solis from endorsing her.
Today there’s a pitched battle to fill Solis’ very large shoes, with Judy Chu, currently serving on the state Board of Equalization, running against State Senator Gil Cedillo. Cedillo’s main point of persuasion for voters seems to be that since the 32nd district is a Latino district, as a Latino he is better suited to represent it.
Unfortunately for the Cedillo campaign, however, he’s not the only candidate in the race with that qualification. Emanuel Pleitez, a 26 year-old Mexican/Salvadoran-American who served on Obama’s Treasury Department Transition Team, though trailing in third place, is apparently close enough on Cedillo’s tails to find himself the target of a vicious piece of attack mail. The message of the mail piece: Pleitez is a “party animal.” The evidence: Pictures on Facebook.
It’s no longer necessary at this point to further describe how innocent these pictures actually were; Calitics and The Hill have already done a great job of it. However, given Cedillo’s primary qualification for office, it’s worth pointing out another detail his attack piece got wrong.
In the mailer, Cedillo accuses Pleitez of “flashing gang signs — and then posting the pictures on the internet.” It then goes on to ask rhetorically, “Doesn’t he know about the lives and neighborhoods that have been destroyed by the gangs?”
If Cedillo knew the movement behind Latino political empowerment a bit better, he may have recognized that the woman standing next to Pleitez in one of those photos is Rosario Dawson, star of ‘Rent’ and ’25th Hour’ and founder of Voto Latino. The “gang signs” the two of them are “flashing” are a ‘V’ and an ‘L,’ as in, ‘Voto Latino.’ Voto Latino’s mission is to empower Latino communities like CD-32 by getting out the vote and promoting civic engagement. Admirably, Pleitez served on the organization’s Board of Directors.
Perhaps failing to recognize the hand gestures for what they were was a simple oversight by an ignorant communications staffer. But eagerly jumping to the conclusion that Pleitez was endorsing gang activity on Facebook at the expense of families in the 32nd district was a reckless and malicious ploy to attract cheap votes.
The tragedy is that Cedillo has been nothing short of heroic in California in his numerous fights in the State Legislature on behalf of undocumented immigrants. But in an all-too-typical phenomenon among politicians, the integrity that inspired him to take on these principled fights in the State Capitol have evaporated on the campaign trail.
The good news is, desperate attacks like these tend to backfire. Unfortunately, they tend to turn people away from important elections in the process. Senator Cedillo should bear both of these facts in mind next time he decides to go negative on his opponents.