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|This map shows the urban area of the state's 51st Assembly District in Los Angeles.|
By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — The countdown to replace Jimmy Gomez in the state’s 51st Assembly District officially kicked off July 24 as Gov. Jerry Brown set Oct. 3 and Dec. 5 for a special primary and general election that will be the third political campaign of the year for many Eastside voters.
The special election lines up six Democrats in search of the Assembly seat, some with vast public and political experience and others with professional medical backgrounds willing to pave the way for a single payer’s health care plan, the program administered by the government that would enroll medical providers to provide universal coverage, with only one financial source for all payments.
Among the potential candidates are Ron Birnbaum, a dermatologist; Luis Lopez, a director at City of Hope cancer research and treatment center in Duarte; Francisco “Franky” Carrillo, who was recently released from prison after serving more than 20 years for a murder conviction that was reversed by a judge; Gabriel Sandoval, an attorney who served in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration; Wendy Carrillo, a journalist who recently ran for the 34th Congressional District seat; and David Vela, a former member of the Montebello school board.
Birnbaum is a Navy veteran and the son of Argentinian immigrants. He launched his campaign with a platform to change the landscape in California’s health care services, and pledged to overhaul a “broken system” into one that covers the poor, immigrants, minorities and gays and lesbians, in the heels of continuous threats from the Republican Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“We spend twice as much as most other nations on health care, but get heart-breaking results,” Birnbaum said. “And it’s even worse in California. I can no longer just toil on the sidelines and instead declare, with this great central purpose of reforming health care, my run to represent you in the California Assembly.”
Lopez started his bid for the Assembly seat on April 5, the day after primary results pitted Gomez, now the 34th Congressional District representative, against attorney Robert Lee Ahn.
In a contentious 2012 campaign, Lopez lost the 51st Assembly District seat to Gomez. Lopez disclosed he has $100,000 in cash for this year’s contest, and reported June 30 he had $110,000 in total contributions.
“I heard from neighbors that they wanted a community leader to build a progressive, grassroots campaign about real-life issues facing so many: access to health care, affordable housing, homelessness, environmental justice and access to well-paying local jobs,” Lopez said.
Carrillo is married with three children. He was convicted in the 1991 drive-by-shooting killing of Donald Sarpy in Lynwood. After he served 20 years in jail, the court reversed his life sentence when a witness recanted his testimony and the judge presiding over the trial concluded there was no reliable evidence Los Angeles sheriff’s detectives could have identified Carrillo as the prime suspect out of six teenagers allegedly involved in the crime.
A year ago, county supervisors awarded Carrillo $10.1 million for the 20 years was imprisoned. Carrillo enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and earned a bachelor’s degree.
“Because of my experience, I am uniquely positioned to represent families who are struggling to earn a living, find good schools for their children, and maintain faith in the face of adversity,” Carrillo told radio station KPCC.
Sandoval is a partner with the law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo. He worked with President Barack Obama as a civil rights lawyer at the U.S. Department of Education and was an advisor to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has endorsed him for the Assembly seat.
“I’m running for the 51st District … because our community deserves a fighter who can hit the ground running when it comes to standing up to the Trump administration and advocating for our community’s interests and values,” Sandoval said.
Carrillo worked as a communications aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders in last year’s presidential campaign. A first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, she was brought here as an undocumented immigrant by her parents and was taught that hard work and community involvement would eventually pay off with important accomplishments.
Carrillo ran an unsuccessful campaign for the 34th Congressional District seat earlier this year.
“I’ve been on the frontlines of environmental justice, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration rights and social justice movements,” she said. “I will fight for gender pay equity, sexual assault prevention and against domestic violence.”
Vela currently serves as senior vice president of Lee Andrews Group, a public engagement company in Los Angeles that tailors messages coupled with visual material for businesses and public agencies.
He already has raised $105,529 for the campaign. He pledged to resist and fight back President Trump’s attempts to curtail civil rights against all residents of California, proposed to delete fees for students enrolled at community colleges, tackle environmental polluters posing rapid risks for climate change and devise programs to offer affordable housing and healthcare for all.
“I plan to run a grassroots driven, people and community powered campaign that’s competitive, aggressive and heavily focused on neighborhood level issues, district-wide issues and policies that impact our state as a whole,” Vela said.
The 51st Assembly District falls in most of the same territory covered by the Los Angeles City Council District 1, which witnessed a hotly contested fight in March and May between Councilman Gil Cedillo and challenger Joe Bray-Ali.
In addition, Gomez defeated Ahn June 6 for the 34th Congressional District seat that was vacated last December when Rep. Xavier Becerra was appointed state attorney general by Gov. Brown.
The district includes the neighborhoods of Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, Silver Lake, El Sereno, Echo Park, Koreatown, parts of Montebello, downtown Los Angeles, Chinatown, Pico-Union, Monterey Hills, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.The area has nearly 224,000 registered voters. About 71 percent of its residents are Latinos, 14 percent Asians, 10.9 percent white and 2.3 percent are blacks.