Campaign: Walking San Fernando with Antonio Sanchez
Hillel Aron | May 20, 2013
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Antonio Sanchez always introduces himself to voters the same way, telling them within ten seconds that he grew up in Pacoima, went to San Fernando High School, and graduated form Cal State Northridge before going on to UCLA.
And so when he canvases precincts in San Fernando on Saturday, he knows most of the streets. He even knows some of the voters — both from growing up in the area and from working on a number of political campaigns, from as far back as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s election in 2005 and Cindy Montanez’s failed State Senate run in 2006.
Although he’s a first-time candidate, the 31-year-old Sanchez also enjoys a panoply of political connections to labor groups, State legislators and East Valley community groups. As a result, nearly $2 million has been spent on Sanchez’s behalf by outside groups, making him the clear favorite in the race.
Spending a couple of hours this past Saturday walking a precinct with Sanchez and his friend, Pete Brown, it’s clear that the connections are an advantage about which Sanchez is unapologetic — but also something he has to answer for.
An ally who worked with Sanchez on previous campaigns, Brown is just one of a number of volunteers walking precincts that day — many of whom are young politically active Latinos.
Many of the residents instantly recognize Sanchez when he knocks on their doors.
“You look older in the picture!” says one woman in Spanish, laughing. Sanchez laughs and replies in Spanish.
Like many others in the East Valley, she’s gotten scores of glossy mailers with his face on them — some sent by his own campaign but more often than not by either SEIU Local 99, which represents LAUSD classified employees, or the Coalition for School Reform, a group of wealthy donors that includes New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and developer philanthropist Eli Broad.
Some voters are wary of this kind of backing.
“I’m gonna vote for you ’cause I know you went to San Fernando High School,” says a voter. “The only thing that’s suspicious is, where are you getting all this money from? I’m getting all these flyers, all these people coming to the door.”
Sanchez calmly explains to her that many of these are paid for by outside expenditure groups whose campaign is independent from his.
“It’s a lot,” says the woman, clearly sick of her mailbox getting stuffed with campaign literature.
“There has been a lot of money,” admits Sanchez, who then seeks to reassure her: “I’m gonna be fair, I’m going to have an open door policy.”
The northeast boundaries of the country’s second-largest school district extend all the way to the San Gabriel Mountains. San Fernando — its own city, independent from Los Angeles — sits in the shadow of the massive mountain range.
Unlike the City of Los Angeles, which is also choosing a new Mayor on Tuesday, there isn’t much else on the ballot in San Fernando — just a Community College race and Sanchez’s runoff against Monica Ratliff.
Some precincts here had a voter turnout of around 4 percent in the March primary. But it’s still fertile ground for Sanchez, because of its high concentration of Latino voters, and because off Sanchez’s roots in the area — although he only sort of grew up in Pacoima.
His parents grew up on the same block in Michoacan, Mexico. His dad was one of 15 children, his mom was one of 12; Sanchez says he has hundreds of cousins in Mexico. His parents moved to Chicago, where Sanchez was born. The family moved back to Mexico, and then to North Hollywood (where Sanchez lives now). When Sanchez was about 10, his dad, a bus driver for the MTA, bought a house in Pacoima.
“It’s what I remember,” he said. “I went to Pacoima Middle School. And I spent every summer in Mexico.” He credits his fluent Spanish to those summers.
Much has been made of Sanchez’s political connections. But Sanchez also has a history of political activism that started when he went to CSUN.
“I used to protest the war, and tuition hikes,” he says. “My dad made me cut my hair when I graduated.”
Indeed, Sanchez isn’t ashamed or embarrassed by his many political connections — like his friends up in Sacramento, or the fact that he Councilman Jose Huizar’s appointee to the Los Angeles redistricting commission, which fell under heavy criticism for it back-room deals and cynical gerrymandering to reward and punish various council members.
“I don’t think my campaign should be considered less legitimate because I’ve been involved,” he says. “I think it’s a good thing. I walk into neighborhood council meetings and I know half the people there.”
Asked if he’s thought about running for higher office after serving as School Board member, he replied, “I have no idea. I don’t think it would be wise to plan anything.”
Would he promise to serve out his first four-year term?
“Oh come on! Of course!” he says. “After Tuesday, it’s the next four years, making sure I have a strong staff, making sure I visit one school a week.”
Just who Sanchez picks as his staff members has been the subject of much rumor and innuendo. Sanchez says he hasn’t thought much about it. But people have been bringing it up: “I’ve had people mention, ‘Hey, you should give me a call.’ From all levels.”
He says his criteria for choosing staff won’t be ideology; it’ll be work ethic.
“I’m used to working seven days a week,” he says. “They’re gonna have to get used to working 7 days a week.”
Sanchez is by all accounts a tireless worker. He says he’s spent the first five hours of every day making fundraising phone calls, has campaigned full-time for the last two months, visiting schools, talking to parents, and going to fundraisers.
Since Thursday, it’s all about making calls and going door-to-door, reminding voters to vote.
He admits: “Dude, I’m mentally drained.”
Previous posts: East Valley Power Politics Shaped District 6 Runoff; Reform Coalition Focuses Massive War Chest on Mailers; Sanchez Supports Classroom Breakfast & Teacher Dismissal Initiatives; Why the Coalition’s Going All Out to Elect Sanchez