Former radio host Wendy Carrillo won a special election on Tuesday (Dec. 5) to represent Northeast and East Los Angeles in the California Assembly, capping a long grassroots journey by the Salvadoran-American immigrant to join the ranks of women in state and national politics.
Carrillo beat run-off opponent Luis Lopez, about 53-47 percent, in the diverse and urban Assembly District 51, which includes Eagle Rock, East Los Angeles, Silver Lake, Echo Park, City Terrace, Boyle Heights, and Highland Park. Overall the district is more than 70 percent Latino-identified.
With her victory among a fraction of voters suffering a bit of election fatigue (some had to vote five times this year), Carrillo will soon be traveling back and forth to Sacramento as a legislator. Her district is a rich tapestry of neighborhoods combining immigrants and recent wealthier newcomers — as well as big problems, like the current housing crisis.
Before running for Assembly, Carrillo threw her hat in the ring to succeed former U.S. Congressman Xavier Becerra in Washington DC.
Carrillo, former host of the program “Knowledge is Power” on Power106-FM, ran as a total outsider with a deeply progressive agenda focused on workers and immigrants’ rights. She finished in sixth place in the April 4 special primary election, which included a wide range of progressive Democratic candidates.
Most of those ex candidates went back to their normal jobs, but Carrillo took another leap in the overlapping election to fill the Assembly seat in Sacramento vacated after former AD51 legislator Jimmy Gomez won Becerra’s seat in Congress.
Becerra’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives had opened up after California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Becerra to become state attorney general. And that seat had opened when the last California attorney general was elected to the U.S. Senate: now Senator Kamala Harris.
Carrillo’s trajectory is remarkable. She was brought to the United States from war-torn El Salvador at the age of five. She was undocumented, and did not know it until she was 13. Carrillo grew up in Eastside neighborhoods, went through the naturalization process, and eventually swore the oath of citizenship just before turning 21.
Now 37, Carrillo has also worked for an SEIU chapter before entering politics. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Cal State Los Angeles and a master’s degree at USC.
“My journey is not unique,” Carrillo wrote on Medium, exactly a year before Tuesday’s victory. “There are countless people like me who are hard-working members of our society, who thrive under dire circumstances. It is the promise of what could be that drives me forward.”
Several voters yesterday told the L.A. Times they ultimately chose Carrillo over Lopez — both progressive Democrats — because of the need to get more women in elected posts, especially in a year riven with revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful men in media and politics.
“You don’t need to wait to get tapped on the shoulder for someone to tell you it’s your turn,” Carrillo told supporters last night.