The four candidates in the race for California's 51st Assembly District tried to distinguish themselves to voters during a forum held at the Glassell Park Recreation Center on Thursday evening.
Because they all shared similar progressive agendas, candidates Luis Lopez, Arturo Chavez, Oscar Gutierrez and Jimmy Gomez spoke largely about how their backgrounds in public service or business uniquely qualified them to serve the district that comprises all of Northeast Los Angeles and parts of Echo Park and Silver Lake.
Lopez—who served as co-chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council for four years, and is currently president of the East Area Planning Commission—touted his experience navigating the halls of government.
"I know how to listen, I know how to bring people together and I know how to move an agenda forward," Lopez said.
Chavez, who is the district director for State Assembly Member Gil Cedillo, touted a keen understanding of local issues in Northeast Los Angeles.
A former field deputy for Council Member Ed Reyes, Chavez said he wouldn't need to learn about Northeast L.A. on the job.
"We're Democrats, we're all pretty much the same on policy issues," Chavez said. "The difference is, is how we get things done. As a district director, that's my job—to get things done in these communities."
Gomez, political director for the United Nurses Association of California, painted himself as a communicator who would empower residents by personally fielding their concerns.
To demonstrate his commitment to community feedback, Gomez shared his cell phone number with the audience—(323) 863-5461.
The one wild card, both during Thursday's forum and in the overall scheme of the race, was Gutierrez.
Towering over the candidates and speaking with booming enthusiasm, the former accounts executive and television producer vowed to track down tax scofflaws and promote a more conducive business environment to increase California's flagging annual revenues.
"Our constituents shouldn't have to decide between a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk," Gutierrez declared.
The candidates fielded a series of questions about supporting education, increasing taxes on the wealthy, addressing the loss of businesses in California, the budget, transportation and the enforcement of local laws.
In general, the candidates took similar policy stances, while trying to carve out their own unique approaches to solving the state's problems.
On the issue of taxation, for example, each agreed that they were in favor of increasing the tax burden on the State's wealthiest residents, but Gutierrez stressed the important of vigilance enforcing tax laws to increase revenue.
"We must go after the scofflaws," he stressed.
Each of the candidates asserted their opposition to proposed State Route-710 extension through El Sereno and South Pasadena.
As an El Sereno resident, Chavez spoke specifically about the need for traffic calming measures in local communities caused by congestion on the southern portion of the 710, and floated the idea of building out that freeway in order to relieve the burden on local residents.
The most local topic discussed during the evening was the need to address noise and air pollution concerns stemming from the Metrolink service station in Cypress Park.
The candidates offered broad responses to the question, expressing a need to bring Metrolink CEOs together with community members to find a solution.
Chavez noted that Cedillo's office played a role in pressuring Metrolink staff to attend a community meeting in January with concerned citizens, but some audience members seemed unimpressed with the progress that had been made on the issue so far--shaking their heads in disappointment as Chavez spoke.
The primary election for this race will be held on Tuesday, June 5. The general election will be held on November 6.