With his upset victory earlier this month, Boyle Heights resident and Deputy District Attorney Nick Pacheco is one of two newcomers to the Los Angeles City Council. And, at age 35, he's also its second-youngest member. He replaces Richard Alatorre, who retires from the council this week after 14 years.
Like the other council newcomer, Alex Padilla, Pacheco is the son of immigrants (his father was a steelworker and his mother is a custodian). He went on to college and then came back to his own neighborhood and embarked upon a career in public service as a county prosecutor.
Pacheco received his introduction to city government as a member of the Elected Charter Reform Commission. He lost his battle to have neighborhood councils with land-use authority included in the new charter and sided with Mayor Richard Riordan in his battle to win more authority for the mayor's post. That decision led to Riordan's endorsement for his council candidacy.
In April, Pacheco and political consultant Victor Griego emerged as the top vote-getters to replace the retiring Alatorre in the 14th District, which runs down the Eastside of L.A. from Eagle Rock on the north, through downtown and Boyle Heights, to South L.A. Pacheco takes office this week.
Question: Your life seems like the embodiment of the American dream: immigrant parents, children going to college and you being elected to the City Council of the second largest city in the nation.
Answer: My parents taught all of us to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there. That's one of the things I've been trying to promote. During our campaign, we were the underdogs, with all of the endorsements and all the media and the conventional wisdom pushing so hard for Mr. Griego. What I said to our team was "Let's not focus on the things we're not getting; let's just maximize the things we have." We had the heart of the community in mind. We kept it simple and we won. "Stay focused on the voters," I told them over and over again. Don't worry about Channel 2, don't worry about KNX Newsradio, don't worry about the Democratic Party.
Q: What was your reaction when you pulled off the upset?
A: "Wow! We really did it!" was the first thing that went through my mind. I must say I wasn't stunned, just very happy for all the families that worked so hard and for everyone who put themselves on the line for me.
Q: What are your main priorities as you prepare to take office?
A: One of my big priorities is the live-work program in downtown L.A. I want to work with that to make it a viable program.
I've always had a great affinity for the downtown area, because as a kid I used to go there to watch movies at all the old movie theaters. In the campaign, I felt that it was an area where we could really get things going with the support of the various property owners and the business improvement districts in downtown. All of them are very interested in developing that area for livable conditions. That means more lofts and more residential areas. It's a great opportunity to maximize the space down there.
Q: What got you started in politics?
A: I got involved in student government at Berkeley. I was the first and last Latino executive vice president of the school. I knew that public service was something I should look at. It was funny, because, once again, I was not favored to win. We ran on slates. Everyone on my party's slate lost, except for me.
Here in Los Angeles, it started with the fight against the prison back in 1986. When I was on break from Berkeley, the mothers, my friends and my neighbors were all surprised that (then state Assemblyman, now state Sen.) Richard Polanco had voted to put a prison in Boyle Heights. We organized the community. I helped them out with that effort; I was part of the coalition against the prison. I did whatever I could to make sure that the prison wasn't completed. I organized marches, I went door-to-door.
After Berkeley, I worked on the campaign for then-Assembly candidate (now U.S. Rep.) Xavier Becerra that was in 1990.
Q: But then you turned aside from politics and went to law school.
A: Xavier Becerra was a lawyer a prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office so I thought I should go back to school. I almost ran for the City Council in 1990, but I decided not to; it was better if I went to law school.
Q: Talk about the experience you received as a deputy D.A.
A: I was working general felony cases. But more important was the work I did during my year rotation at Juvenile Hall (1997-98); it really opened my eyes. I saw some of the factors that contributed to crime, like unsupervised children because their parents have to take two jobs and their children don't get the attention they needed. You see it all there when they are asked questions by the judge about what was going on in their lives. They lacked the social skills.
Q: You will be the second-youngest member on the City Council, under a president who has been on the council almost as long as you have been alive. How does it feel to be the young kid on the block?
A: (Laughing) I come in with the advantage of having two years working on the city charter. I feel comfortable with the responsibilities.
Q: There could some rocky relationships developing between you and your new council colleagues with regard to implementing the charter. How do you intend to deal with this?
A: I think the council is going to work quickly quicker than most people imagine to pass those ordinances in a manner that benefits them. But that's what we did in the process. We empowered the City Council to be the policy-setter for the city. When you look at the 80 places that the council has to put meat on the document, that's 80 places where the council is empowered to guide the city.
Once they realize that, once that sinks in, I don't think there's going to be a problem. I think the real problem is that there will be competing council members on how they can best write it. And if there is any imbalance in the distribution of power, that's where they can re-level the playing field.
Q: How did you get involved in the charter reform effort?
A: I wasn't really seeking it out, but since it was there, I went around to some friends of mine who worked for (L.A. County Supervisor Gloria) Molina and Becerra. They thought it was a good opportunity to get my feet wet and find out what was going on at City Hall. So I ran. And I was not supported by labor I was not on the labor slate, or the mayor's slate. I ran as a community candidate. I ran against four candidates. And I ran a door-to-door campaign.
In the end, it wasn't even close. In the primary, I got 42 percent and then in the runoff, I got 52 percent.
Q: How did you feel when the two charter commission chairmen got together and proposed to draft a "unified charter?"
A: Initially I was opposed to it because I thought the process was going to dilute our product. I felt the elected commission's product was a better product.
Q: What changed your mind?
A: I think at some point there was overwhelming consensus that this unified charter measure had the best chance of being passed. At that point I felt for the sake of the city that I should go along with it, even though it didn't have everything I wanted. I figured, something now is better than nothing.
Q: The neighborhood council issue was defeated in part by a lobbying effort from business interests. Will their action on this issue affect your relations with the business community?
A: No, it won't. Their place of influence is at the council level. Any major development a Staples Center, the Coliseum goes to the council. (Projects like these) were never meant to be at the neighborhood council level. I was always baffled by the opposition. People want to know about how many liquor stores there are in their neighborhood or what's happening with the corner recycling center. That's what neighborhood councils' real role was meant to be, with these smaller issues.
Q: One of the biggest issues you will face is secession petitions from the San Fernando Valley and possibly other areas like Eagle Rock. Do you support secession?
A: No, no, no! I do not support secession. But I want to see the process go ahead as smoothly and fairly as possible. I think the process will reveal what's good about L.A. and what the secessionists don't see as being a part of their interest. But if it was up to me only, when I go into that voting booth and I have to vote for secession, I'm going to vote against it. That doesn't mean the Valley and other communities shouldn't examine the question. We have a fundamental duty to allow them to examine these questions. I'm going to work hard to make sure that this issue is fairly and openly discussed and I would never rule out a vote on the issue.
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