Update, 11:50 a.m.: Aviles, who hung a Sarah Palin mannequin in effigy from his rooftop in 2008, has received an endorsement from the gay Republican web site GayPatriot.net. More after the jump.
For West Hollywood City Council candidate Mito Aviles, coming out of the closet at the age of 18 was a harrowing but important experience that informs him today.
In 1998, just a few weeks after Aviles graduated from high school, he took his mother, an immigrant from El Salvador, for a car ride to a park near their home in the San Gabriel Valley. Feeling lonely and confused about his homosexuality, he told her he was gay.
“I was hoping for acceptance,” Aviles says on a recent afternoon at his West Hollywood home. “But that didn't happen, and it was on to Plan B, but I didn't really have a Plan B.”
As they sat there at the park, his mother made it clear he was no longer welcomed at home — his father, who's also from El Salvador, would later back her up.
Aviles dropped his mother off and drove his white Honda Accord to a nearby supermarket, where he slept overnight in the parking lot. He didn't even go into his house to pick up his clothes.
“I was just in my car,” he recalls. “I didn't know what to do. But I said to myself, 'You know what? You have to grow up.'” He adds, “I never felt so alone. I never felt so helpless.”
Instead of allowing his life to take a tragic route, Aviles found a place to live and attended the University of California – Riverside that fall. He took out student loans, paid for his own tuition, and majored in political science and international affairs.
“I didn't want it to be a crutch,” he says about the falling out with his family, with whom he's still estranged. “My intention was to always be successful.”
During his undergraduate years, he interned as an organizer with SEIU Local 399 and worked on political campaigns for Los Angeles City Council candidate Victor Griego and California State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg.
After graduation in 2002, he was hired as a legislative aide for Congresswoman Hilda Solis, now the Secretary of Labor for the Obama Administration.
Today, Aviles says about his coming out experience: “It enables me to be a lot more open-minded about things and foster good relationships with people and create good communication lines between people. The lack of communication led to the problems with my family.”
The 30-year-old challenger considers himself part of a young, post-Proposition 8 generation that became politicized when California voters approved a gay marriage ban and sent Barack Obama to the White House on the same night in 2008.
“There's a whole new generation that seeks change,” he says. “They want it.”
Running a grassroots campaign, Aviles' candidacy typifies the struggle that many ordinary citizens in West Hollywood go through when they decide to fight City Hall over one issue or another — he gathered a close-knit group of like-minded friends who believe they can make a difference by engaging in the political system.
Eric Kroskrity, an intense, quick-witted 26-year-old who worked for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, works as the campaign strategist, writing speeches and talking daily with Aviles.
Reilly Bates, a personable 24-year-old with a political science degree, organizes volunteers as the campaign co-ordinator.
ChadMichael Morrisette, Aviles' boyfriend and business partner for their window display business, CM Squared Designs, juggles work with campaign duties.
Outside this group of unpaid staffers, Aviles says he has 150 “hard-core” volunteers who have signed up for phone banking and door-to-door voter canvassing.
Aviles is known for wearing a white-and-blue name tag whenever he goes out of the house.
Some people may see it as a cute gimmick, but it's actually a strategic way to meet voters: When people inevitably ask why he's wearing such a thing in public, Aviles gets the opening to talk about his City Council run.
The candidate then sounds off the main themes of his campaign: he supports term limits, wants residents to have a meaningful say in how the city is developed, believes renters and small businesses need better protections and help from City Hall, and wants to engage residents so they vote in larger numbers and participate in local government decisions.
“The campaign is here to give West Hollywood back to the residents!” Aviles tells a young, fresh-faced crowd of some 60 supporters at a campaign event at his home.
On Election Day, March 8, West Hollywood voters will decide if they'll take him up on his offer.
Update: Gay Patriot blogger and West Hollywood resident B. Daniel Blatt has announced his endorsement for Mito Aviles. In a blog post today, Blatt writes:
“When it comes to the burdens the city of West Hollywood places on entrepreneurs, I find common ground with at least two of the challengers, one of whom has an unfortunate record when it comes to Sarah Palin.
“Indeed, it is that stunt which almost prevented me from withholding my support, much less my vote, from Mito Aviles, but after meeting with him last Friday and considering our conversation about small business, I decided not just to give him my vote, but to endorse him as well.”
Blatt adds, “We need someone with business experience on city council, a man aware of the challenges facing those creative types who move here to set up shop and market their 'cutting-edge' wares to an artistic and often iconoclastic community. Mito Aviles is such a person. And that is why I, despite differing with him on a number of issues, am endorsing him for West Hollywood City Council.”
No small thing for longtime Democrat Aviles, who already appears to be making good on his promise to reach out and listen to all folks in WeHo.
NOTE: During the reporting for the L.A. Weekly cover story “Dethroning West Hollywood's Martinets,” we spent many hours with WeHo's City Council candidates — except for incumbents John Heilman, Abbe Land, and Lindsey Horvath, who refused to be interviewed in person.
This week, we are using previously unpublished material for a series of posts on each of the six challengers the Weekly met and talked with.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.