Monday, December 16, 2013

L.A.’s Eric Garcetti: Mayors will lead on immigration.

Eric Garcetti is pictured. | AP Photo

Big-city mayors will help lead a national push on immigration reform and expanding early childhood education in 2014, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti predicted Friday.

In an interview with POLITICO, Garcetti said that he and his fellow newly-elected mayors intended to speak out in the coming year on issues that have languished in a gridlocked Washington. He met Friday morning with other mayors and mayors-elect – including Ed Murray of Seattle, Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Mike Duggan of Detroit and Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, Fla. – at Washington’s Hay-Adams Hotel ahead of a White House sit-down with President Barack Obama.

The 42-year-old Garcetti, who was inaugurated last spring as the mayor of America’s second-largest city, said he hoped to find “a cohort of big-city mayors” who can press for policy change in a coordinated way nationwide.

“I think there will be strong voices that come from mayors about the importance of immigration reform. I would hope we’ll help move that in 2014,” Garcetti said. “I think you’ll see things happen with early education and youth: universal preschool, something that [New York City Mayor-elect Bill] de Blasio ran on, that we’re working on in LA and that’s a priority of the president.”

The Democrat also mentioned climate change as an area where cities have more room for activist leadership. A member of the Obama administration’s climate change task force, Garcetti said the initial meeting of that committee emphasized “the importance of cities and states, but cities in particular with municipal utilities.”
(PHOTOS: Immigration reform rally on the National Mall)

Like many mayors, Garcetti downplays the partisanship of his position and noted that he had to capture both Democratic and Republican votes in order to win his office in the first place. But the national, mayor-friendly agenda he sketched out was plainly in line with the increasingly progressive message of the White House.
“On things like the minimum wage, where cities as well as states are increasingly looking at income disparity, mayors will have, I think, a very strong voice,” he said.

The former Los Angeles city council president has already been bandied about as a future candidate for statewide or federal office in California, where both senators and the governor are all Democrats over the age of 70.

But Garcetti said he has no expectation that the governor’s office in Sacramento will be open anytime soon. While incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet announced whether he will run for reelection in 2014, Garcetti said it’s only a matter of time.

“I’m confident that he will announce he wants to run again,” Garcetti said. “I think he finally has cracked the code in California of how to be both pragmatic and practical, so I expect that he’ll be serving for another five years.”

An early endorser of Obama’s 2008 campaign who saw former President Bill Clinton weigh in against him during the mayoral race earlier this year, Garrcetti said he would be “excited” about a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016 – and related a warm exchange he had with the 42nd president, who reached out immediately after the Los Angeles election.

“He left a message, I called him right back, he picked up his cell phone and we had a wonderful conversation,” Garcetti said. “I understand relationships. My opponent worked for the Clinton administration … Every election – President Clinton acknowledged this – you have to win on your own.”

Garcetti called himself an admirer of Hillary Clinton, and said his endorsement of Obama had more to do with his relationship with the president than any objection to the former first lady’s candidacy.
“I have always been a fan,” he said. “I’d be very enthusiastic to see her running.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Narbonne High teacher stopped this run at a football prospect

When soon-to-be USC coach Steve Sarkisian visited Veronica Bennett's class to check on a star student, she made the right play.

A teacher's classroom goal-line stand
Veronica Bennett is shown in her classroom at Narbonne High School. When future USC football coach Steve Sarkisian tried to talk to a star student in her honors class, she turned him away. The young man was a student first, she informed Sarkisian, and he was busy studying. The football talk could wait. (Luis Sinco)

Los Angeles Times
Last week, a neat little nugget was tucked into the bottom of a story about USC's new head football coach, Steve Sarkisian.

The piece by Eric Sondheimer — the local treasure who covers prep sports for The Times — noted that Sarkisian had dropped by Narbonne High School in Harbor City last month to check on a star football player. Sarkisian got as far as the athlete's classroom door, but in the equivalent of a great goal-line stand, the teacher turned him away.

The young man was a student first, and he happened to be studying U.S. government with the rest of his honors class, the teacher informed the coach. She didn't appreciate the interruption.

I knew the moment I read this that I had to meet such a stand-up teacher, so on Thursday I drove down to Narbonne. As I entered the office, four well-dressed, exceedingly polite sophomores appeared. They told me they were members of the school's Public Service Academy and were running an errand for their teacher.

Two of them told me they're going to be lawyers, and the other two want to be a firefighter and a police officer.

Somebody was clearly doing something right at this school. Principal Gerald Kobata attributed the school's atmosphere to a lot of good students and good teachers, too. And as we talked, one of those teachers suddenly appeared.

Veronica Bennett, the best defender Steve Sarkisian ever met, has a big voice and robust personality, but she was uncomfortably shy about my visit. She's no different from most teachers, she told me. And she was just doing her job.

Teaching, it turns out, is not Bennett's first career. The Bay Area native worked in sales for a dental lab and then became a benefits administrator for a chemical company. But it wasn't fulfilling work, so when a friend suggested she was good with kids and should consider teaching, she went back to school at age 42 to earn a credential.

"My thought … was that I would keep going until a door closed," said Bennett. "But the doors kept flying open."

She started teaching at Narbonne in 1996, and has never regretted her midlife career switch, despite the challenges. Many of her students are dealing with poverty, neighborhood crime and peer pressure.

"But when you get with them one-on-one," Bennett said, "they all want to succeed."
It was early November when Sarkisian visited Narbonne. He was head coach at the University of Washington at the time and wanted to lure Narbonne defensive back Uchenna Nwosu up to Seattle.

Ironically, Nwosu wasn't interested. He'd already committed to USC.
"It was third period," Bennett said. "So during the course of our lesson, I get a school aide who comes and says the student needs to go to the athletics office. And I said no, we're right in the middle of class."

Bennett has a way of making that single word — no — into a lecture. It's all about tone, attitude, body language.

Maintaining the focus of her third-period students can be tricky, she said, so she doesn't like distractions.
"They're nice kids, don't get me wrong," she said. "But they're very social."

Moments after the first aide was turned away, another one appeared.
Same request.
Same reply.

Even my temperature was rising as Bennett related the story.
"So she leaves, and five minutes later I get a counselor coming in. By that point I'm pretty steamed," said Bennett, who told me her students "were now bouncing off the walls."

She sent the counselor packing.
Moments later, another knock.

"This is the fourth interruption and I can't get anything done. So I go to the door and here's our football coach and Sarkisian," said Bennett, who was once the athletic director at Narbonne. She said she told Sarkisian she knew him from his days as a star athlete in the South Bay.

"I said, 'Hi, coach, I'm Victoria Bennett, you went to West Torrance High.' He said yes, and I didn't give him a chance to say anything else because I was hot. I said, 'I'm sure you will understand I've had most of these youngsters for two years and my goal is to get them across the stage."

If her students play football, fine, Bennett told me. If they get a full college scholarship, yahoo!
"But academics is my No. 1," she recalls telling the coaches in what she describes as a deliberate but respectful tone. "This is what I do. This is it."

She suggested that even a big-deal college coach like Sarkisian could wait until after class to conduct his business.

"I said, 'I am not enamored of celebrity.'"
With that, Bennett went back and taught her class, and Sarkisian waited until later to visit Nwosu.

"She's a very good teacher," said Principal Kobata. "She holds them accountable. When you go into her class, you see student engagement.... They don't just sit passively."
Kobata said he was upset with his staff for interrupting Bennett's class. The policy is for recruiters to visit after school.

And what about Nwosu, who, as it turns out, will have plenty of time with Sarkisian at USC next year?
"I appreciated what she was doing," the student said of the way Bennett put his education first.

Nwosu said his grade-point average is above 3.0 and he might major in business at USC.
Bennett, he said, is "a cool teacher. Cool and funny."
"I love that class."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winning the Latino Vote: What Republicans can learn from Chris Christie and Susana Martinez


In a state where 18 percent of the population is Hispanic, the residents of Union City are 85 percent Hispanic or Latino -- more than any place in New Jersey. It was no coincidence that Governor Chris Christie chose Union City as the site for the last rally of his successful re-election campaign, an event that also featured the only out-of-state Republican Governor he brought into the Garden State to campaign for him -- New Mexico’s Susana Martinez.

Christie’s choice of Union City and his selection of Governor Susana Martinez as his surrogate go a long way to explaining how he won an outright majority (51 percent) of the Hispanic vote, the first Republican Governor in three decades to do so -- but it’s only part of the story.

In 2011, nearly two-thirds of Union City voters were registered as Democrats, compared to 6.5 percent Republicans. Just last year, 81 percent of the city’s voters supported President Barack Obama.

Yet on the night before New Jersey voted, Governor Christie and Governor Martinez were talking up a raucus crowd of 200 mostly Hispanic voters who had waited in the cold to cheer them. Martinez delivered half her remarks in Spanish.
 Christie’s choice of Union City and his selection of Governor Susana Martinez as his surrogate go a long way to explaining how he won an outright majority (51 percent) of the Hispanic vote.
They were joined onstage by the City’s Democratic Mayor Kevin Stack, and by Celin J. Valdivia, the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The entire Union City Democratic Committee had crossed lines to endorse the Republican Governor, as had many of the city’s other municipal officials.

Christie borrowed from Woody Allen in his victory speech, attributing his success to “showing up.”

“While we may not always agree, we show up everywhere,” he said. “We just don’t show up in the places that vote for us a lot, we show up in the places that vote for us a little. We don’t just show up in the places where we’re comfortable, we show up in the places where we’re uncomfortable.”

It took a lot more than “showing up” -- and therein lie the lessons for Republicans who seek to regain the trust of America’s fastest-growing community.

True, “showing up” can represent a powerful message to a community so long isolated from the political process. At the Union City rally, Democrat Blanca Diaz told a reporter, “the other governors, they never come here.”

“The governor has built inroads into the Latino community for the past 11 years, going back to his days as a U.S. Attorney,” observes Christie campaign advisor Michael Duhaime.

But it is what happens after Republicans show up that matters. Christie has governed as a fiscal conservative and he has been a sworn enemy of the Garden State’s powerful teachers’ unions. In Union City, however, he’s remembered for working diligently and in good faith with community leaders and Democrats in City Hall on issues ranging from education reform and charter schools to property taxes and public safety.

His success is also a matter of tone. Calling Christie “plain spoken” is putting it politely, and yes, he can come off as brusque -- but it is impossible to doubt his sincerity or the quality of his intentions. That’s how to build bridges with 51 percent of Hispanics, not by insulting their intelligence or pandering.
 Christie has governed as a fiscal conservative and he has been a sworn enemy of the Garden State’s powerful teachers’ unions. In Union City, however, he’s remembered for working diligently and in good faith with community leaders.
Hispanics want what everybody else wants: a good job, a nice place to live in a safe neighborhood, and for our kids to have a better life than ours. Christie delivered that, and New Jersey’s Hispanic voters returned the favor by trusting him to continue to do so.

It certainly didn’t hurt that Christie has wisely rejected the shrill anti-immigration rhetoric of some Republicans. It offends and alienates Hispanics -- immigrants and native-born alike. Late in the campaign, citing an improved fiscal climate in the state, he even reversed his position on a state version of the DREAM Act that will allow undocumented students to take advantage of in-state tuition rates.

The Christie campaign’s reported $1 million in Spanish-language TV (from a warchest that allowed him to overspend his opponent by a margin of 10:1) was likewise clearly a factor.

It’s important to note, too, that New Jersey’s Latino population is much more diverse than in many parts of the country. Assimilated Cubans and Puerto Ricans make up fully 50 percent of the Garden State’s Hispanic electorate, and neither group directly faces the broken immigration system that motivates so many other Hispanic communities toward the Democrats (Puerto Ricans enjoy U.S. citizenship due to the island’s being a U.S. Territory, while Cubans have refugee status). New Jersey also boasts significant populations of assimilated Brazilian, Spanish, and Portugese-Americans, who tend to be more fiscally conservative than other Latino groups.

Nevertheless, the lessons of Christie’s tenure and his campaign should not be lost on Republicans elsewhere.

Governor Martinez, too, has maintained astronomically high approval ratings in a blue state. According to a poll last month by Survey USA and Albuquerque station KOB, Martinez enjoys the support of 66 percent of New Mexico’s voters, including 70 percent of women, 64 percent of independents, and 44 percent of registered Democrats. (While cross-tabs were not provided, given that nearly half of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic, it is reasonable to believe that her approval numbers are consistently high within those communities as well).
 Martinez, too, has built support by reaching across party lines to seek compromise wherever possible and by consistently putting the needs of her state’s hard-pressed population ahead of party politics and ideological conformity.
Martinez, too, has built support by reaching across party lines to seek compromise wherever possible and by consistently putting the needs of her state’s hard-pressed population (New Mexico’s poverty rate is second only to Mississippi’s and fully 20 percent of the state’s population is without health care ) ahead of party politics and ideological conformity.

Like Christie, she has worked with a Democratic-controlled legislature to fashion a workable agenda that governs from the center-right. Like him, she rejected the GOP’s prevailing ideology to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

As Republicans and Democrats alike study the lessons of Chris Christie’s stunning victory among Hispanics, each side should consider the words of Martin Perez, President of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey: “In the past,” he said, “what has happened is that the Democratic Party that we have endorsed a lot of times has taken us for granted, and the Republican Party didn’t pay much attention. We have to look beyond labels and look at what is in the best interest of community. He [Christie] tries to find common ground.”   

Leslie Sanchez, author of “Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other,” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), was Director of the White House Initiative on Hispanic Education and is a Republican political strategist.