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Local reps share why they were inspired to run

By Yahairah Aristy and Jeff Benesch | La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club

Democrats outnumber Republicans in La Mesa, Lemon Grove and San Diego, yet there are scores of seats on local boards and jurisdictions where Republicans run unopposed every election cycle.

How do we convince Democrats to run for office? What inspired some of our area’s most notable political heavyweights to run for public office in the first place? Ego, power, money, fame, or altruism? Or a combination of these factors?

(l to r) Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, Rep. Scott Peters, Rep. Susan A. Davis, Mark Gracyk and Dr. Kayla Greene (Courtesy LMFDC)

We’ve secured a great cross-section of political leaders to talk about their own experiences in making that profound decision to run for elective office. Sometimes it’s ambition or involvement with local issues that drives people to public service. Sometimes it’s a frustration with the status quo, or a fundamental disagreement with the political direction of a governing group. Whatever the motivation, we need more Democrats — especially in East County — to become aspiring candidates for office and to make their own contributions to the governance of our communities.

A great, notable panel of representatives will highlight the Aug. 2 meeting of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club (LMFDC) and share why they were inspired to run for local offices.

Rep. Susan Davis proudly represents California’s 53rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her interest in public affairs and service grew out of her experiences as a social worker, parent, youth mentor, and military spouse. Through these life experiences, Davis developed an understanding of and deep commitment to improving her community and country.

Prior to Congress, Davis served in the California State Assembly (1994-2000). In addition to her state legislative experience, Davis brought to Congress nine years of experience as a member of the San Diego Unified Board of Education (1983-1992). As a senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Susan has played a key role in bringing reforms and improvements to primary, secondary and higher education.

In the House, as she has throughout her public service, Davis has approached legislating as a bipartisan consensus builder, achieving legislative successes in education, military families and veterans support and health care.

Rep. Scott Peters serves California’s 52nd Congressional District, which includes the cities of Coronado, Poway and most of northern San Diego. First elected in 2012, Peters has worked across the aisle to fix a broken Congress and stand up for San Diego’s military and veterans community.

After a 15-year career as an environmental lawyer, Scott was elected to the San Diego City Council, where he later became the City’s first City Council President. On the council, he helped lead the $2 billion redevelopment of downtown San Diego, the cleanup of the city’s beaches and bays, and the completion of major infrastructure projects.

In 2001, the governor appointed Peters to the Commission on Tax Policy in the New Economy, and in 2002, the Speaker of the Assembly appointed him to the California Coastal Commission.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez was elected in May of 2013, promising to fight for our state’s working and middle classes, and she hasn’t stopped yet. In 2015, The Atlantic Magazine labeled her “The California Democrat setting the National Agenda” for her practical, progressive legislation aimed at alleviating real issues in people’s lives.

Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Gonzalez was a labor leader and organizer, serving as the first woman and first person of color to be elected CEO and Secretary-Treasurer for the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO. She also previously worked as the Senior Advisor to California’s Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, and she served on the California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission.

Mark Gracyk is a U.S. Army Veteran, a LMFDC club member, and newly-elected director of the Helix Water District representing Division 3. He has over 20 years of professional water management experience and currently works as the Reclaimed Water Manager at MCAS Miramar.

Gracyk and his family have lived in Lemon Grove for over 20 years where they have been involved in the community through Boy and Girl Scouts, soccer, Little League, their church and more.

Gracyk is very proud of his involvement as chairman of the Prop W Oversight Committee, working with the Lemon Grove School District to oversee the completion of its beautiful new library.

Dr. Kayla Greene is executive director of The Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) — a nonprofit research and action institute dedicated to creating economic prosperity, sustainable communities and a healthy environment for all.

CPI serves a unique role in the San Diego region, providing the analysis, policy solutions, education and alliances that advance social and economic justice. Dr. Greene is in an ideal position to relate how much of our political direction is determined by our early life experiences and socioeconomic background. And how clearly this is delineated in legislative agendas on all levels.

Before joining CPI, Dr. Greene was an assistant professor of Sociology at San Diego State University, where she taught courses on socioeconomic inequality, race, and qualitative research methods. She has served as an instructor in sociological courses on public policy at both Rider University and Stanford University. She was also the Diversity Coordinator for Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (EDGE-SBE) program at Stanford University.

La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club serves the communities of Allied Gardens, Del Cerro, San Carlos, the College Area, La Mesa, Santee, Mt. Helix, Casa de Oro, and other close-by East County areas. Meetings take place the first Wednesday of every month starting at 6:30 p.m. at the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive and are open to everyone. Come join the resistance!

Half-year club memberships are now available for new members for as little as $15. Please visit our Facebook page, or check out our website at lamesafoothillsdemocraticclub.com.

—Yahairah Aristy is president and Jeff Benesch is vice president of programming of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club. Reach them at jeffbenesch@gmail.com.

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