California, which has the largest number of Hispanic members of Congress, added at least one more Latino to the state delegation Tuesday with the election of Tony Cardenas from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
Cardenas, a Los Angeles City Councilman, easily swept to victory in the newly revamped 29th Congressional District that had been specially created for a Latino Democrat.
While national attention had focused on the possible Latino Congressional elections of former astronaut Jose Hernandez and Ivy League emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz, it was the soft-spoken veteran lawmaker Cardenas who quietly secured a House seat while Hernandez and Ruiz were facing long odds.
Hernandez was locked in a bitter contest with Republican fresh Congressman Jeff Denham in the 10th Congressional District centered around Modesto. Ruiz was facing an uphill battle trying to unseat longtime incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack in the 35th Congressional District in the Coachella Valley.
Denham held an 11 percentage point lead over Hernandez with a third of the district voting precincts reporting.
Mack had a razor-thin lead over Ruiz with roughly a third of the votes in, according to the first batch of returns released by the Riverside County Registrar’s Office.
Ballots by mail may slow the counting process
Election officials have cautioned that counting the votes could take some time this year because more Californians than ever are voting by mail. More than nine million ballots were mailed to voters, and 3.2 million had been returned by Saturday, officials said.
It could take up to a couple of weeks to get results in any races that are particularly tight, according the secretary of state’s office.
For Tony Cardenas, who faced only token opposition, the outcome had been all but official for some time. He had been so confident that he hit the campaign trail to help other candidates.
“I had no thought of running for Congress,” Cardenas said in talking about how he had seemingly stumbled on to making the run for the House. “I served six years in the state Assembly and three terms here at City Hall, and I was beginning to think of what’s next?”
In winning, Cardenas joins the state’s 53-member Congressional delegation whose Hispanic roll call from Southern California includes Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Loretta and Linda Sanchez, Grace Napolitano and Xavier Becerra who all won re-election.
As the fifth most powerful among the 190 Democrats in the House, Becerra was recently named the vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Tony Cardenas and other Latino candidates from California:
— Former Republican Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado who was challenging longtime Democratic incumbent Lois Capps in a redrawn 24th Congressional District in Santa Barbara.
— Democratic State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod—who got $2.5 million in support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—was challenging fellow Democrat Joe Baca for his 35th Congressional District seat in Ontario.
The son of an immigrant California farm worker, Cardenas called his likely election “a historic opportunity for (San Fernando) Valley Latinos to have a strong and unified voice in Congress for the first time.”
“The opportunity to be the valley’s first Latino Congressional representative is humbling,” he said, “and I’m proud that so many diverse leaders have come together to support this campaign.”
Tony Cardenas’ rise to Congress marks a decade-long process by civil rights groups pressing for a Hispanic district in the San Fernando Valley, once known as Reagan Country for its conservatism and largely white population but where Latinos now outnumber non-Hispanics.
Once the new district was approved, a slew of political leaders rallied around Cardenas, including the California Democratic Party and SEIU California, the state’s largest union.
Cardenas is one of 11 children of Andres Cardenas and Maria Quezada, who immigrated after marrying in Jalisco, Mexico in 1946. Andres Cardenas worked in the California agricultural fields before settling the family in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley.
The younger Cardenas was elected to the California State Assembly for three consecutive terms. In 2003, he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council and re-elected in 2007 and 2011.
Among Tony Cardenas’ legislative achievements has been a landmark crime prevention measure on gang intervention that keeps at-risk youth off the street by providing alternatives to gangs while increasing community and public safety resources for local policing.
“Time and again Tony Cardenas has brought stakeholders together to solve our most difficult problems from authoring groundbreaking gang intervention legislation in the legislature to reforming the business tax code to create local jobs here on the City Council,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said of his longtime City Hall ally.
“Tony Cardenas has always been a champion Valley families can count on, and in Congress he’ll make sure the Valley is never left behind.”