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Activists Turned Elected Officials

The onetime head of the County Employees Union, where he built the labor-community coalitions that saved the county health system in the restructuring of 1995, and where he also mobilized student opposition to Proposition 187, Gil Cedillo was elected to the Assembly in a 1997 special election. In his year in office, he's already become a tribune for California's low-income immigrants, who can be found in profusion in his downtown-L.A. district.

From 1986 through 1994, attorney Michael Feuer headed the Bet Tzedek legal clinic, one of the city's premier advocates for low-income tenants and patients. In 1995 he was elected to represent a Westside-Valley district on the City Council, where he's been a leading - and often lonely - voice for political reform.

A '60s Yalie who cut her political teeth fighting a New Haven redevelopment project that threatened to destroy a working-class community, Ruth Galanter became one of the city's leading environmental and balanced-growth activists in the '70s and '80s. In 1987, the underfunded and unheralded Galanter unseated then-City Council President Pat Russell, a pillar of the growth establishment, in her Crenshaw-Westchester-Venice district. Galanter's gone on to become one of the leading council reformers and enviros, and is heading up the battle to block the expansion of LAX.

A onetime Berkeley free-speech activist turned teacher turned school-board member, Jackie Goldberg has represented Hollywood on the L.A. City Council since 1993. More important, she has also represented low-wage L.A. when no one else was remotely inclined to undertake that task. More important still, she's been a smashing success - authoring the living-wage bill, steering it to unanimous enactment in the council, and pioneering such innovative arrangements as living-wage requirements for the retail establishments at the Trizec-Hahn complex slated for development in her district.

The first president of Students for a Democratic Society and the pre-eminent New Left leader of the '60s, Tom Hayden came to the Westside in the '70s, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, and then established the Campaign for Economic Democracy, which became a progressive force in state politics for the next decade. Since 1982, Hayden has represented the Westside, and now the Westside and West Valley, in the Legislature, during which time he's also become one of the staunchest (and one of the few) Green Democrats in American politics. Last year, he challenged Mayor Riordan for re-election, and while his campaign didn't amount to much politically, it did advance ideas on local control of development that loom large in this year's charter debates. The onetime proponent of participatory democracy still wants to empower the neighborhoods - to the dismay of the L.A. business establishment.

Mark Ridley-Thomas first came to public attention during his years as executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Martin Luther King Jr.'s old organization), where he focused on civil rights and inner-city economic development. He's kept that focus on the L.A. City Council, where he's served since 1991. His 8th District Empowerment Congress offers residents of his South-Central district a regular forum to voice their concerns.

Just a few years ago, Antonio Villaraigosa, a graduate of the left-leaning People's College of Law, was an organizer for the United Teachers of Los Angeles and president of the local ACLU. Today, he's speaker of the California Assembly - surely, the most progressive speaker in the history of the state. In his year at the helm of Sacramento's lower house, Villaraigosa placed a massive school-construction bond on the November ballot, and successfully insisted in the budget negotiations that benefits be restored to legal immigrants who'd fallen victim to the mid-'90s' xenophobic backlash.


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