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Latinos on the City Council gain, lose representation in West Valley

Latinos on the City Council

Ann Tovar, 45, is the first Latina mayor of Tolleson. She holds a gavel gifted to her by the city at the inauguration of the new Tolleson City Council on December 13, 2016.(Photo: Laura Gómez/The Republic)

In 2014, Avondale had no Latinos on the City Council.

Starting in 2017, the city will have four minority council members — three Latino and one African American.

The city’s new mayor, Anna Tovar, is the first Latina to hold the highest city office.

After taking the oath of office, Tovar stood with a big smile and said she’s proud to be the first Latina mayor in Tolleson.

In an election year that has brought many new people to city councils throughout the West Valley, Latino representation is growing in some city governments but falling in several large cities when the size of the minority population is compared to the proportion of minority elected officials.

The new council in Glendale, a city 37 percent Latino, has one Hispanic member, Jamie Aldama, out of seven city council seats.

In Surprise, where 20 percent of the population is Latino, the new council has all white members.

In Buckeye, Robert Garza, one of two Latino members on the seven-member City Council, didn’t run for re-election. Jeanine Guy will replace him, and Michelle Hess will be the only Latina council member in a city with a 37 percent Latino population, according to city data.

El Mirage, a city of 33,000 people, is 49 percent Latino but only two out of the seven members of the City Council are Latino.

El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook, who is white, said in a written statement that the municipality has a diverse staff, and since 2006 not many minorities have run for office.

Mook said it’s the issues — like supporting the F-35 program at Luke Air Force Base and staffing the Fire Department — that are on the minds of El Mirage residents, not the race or ethnicity of their representatives.

“The council is doing exactly what we promised and making every effort to keep our residents informed of what is happening. I believe that is why we were elected and re-elected; race or color of skin has not been a factor,” Mook said. Different groups are affected by different issues, so on one hand, as elected officials we represent everyone, but at the same time different groups have different needs. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, said the topic of representation is not simple.

“On one hand yes, someone can say what people care about is that they’re taken care of, but it’s more complex than that,” he said. Different groups are affected by different issues, so on one hand, as elected officials we represent everyone, but at the same time different groups have different needs. ”

Rivero used to represent the Acacia District in Peoria, which includes the city’s original Old Town settlement and, according to a 2015 special census, has the most minorities of the six districts at 35 percent of the population. People are people, they have needs, they have wants,” Hunt said. ”

Peoria resident Seferino Olivo, who lives in the Acacia District and primarily speaks Spanish, said both Hunt and Rivero were inaccessible council members. He said he hasn’t noticed a difference with the change in representation.
Sayu Bhojwani, executive director of the New American Leaders Project, a national organization that trains first- and second-generation Americans for elected office, said ethnicity can influence voter turnout and the kinds of policies that are championed and implemented.

“That is not to say that our white allies cannot reflect our concerns, but I do think there’s something about having had those experiences that can make you a strong advocate,” she said.

Six out of the 13 Democratic senators are Latino, and 16 out of 25 Democrats in the House of Representatives are Hispanic.

Ian Danley, executive director of One Arizona, a coalition of groups working to increase the participation of Latinos in civic life, applauded these advances in electing minorities. He said a more engaged electorate is the main reason.

“As the electorate engages, politicians will change, and we’ve seen that,” said Danley, who anticipates more Latinos running for office at the local, county and state levels.

He added, though, that “some Latinos and Latinas have let us down in the past, and we hold them accountable. So simply checking an ethnic box isn’t enough — especially for this younger generation, you’re going to have more than a Hispanic surname and talk about immigration reform. You’re going to have to show up every day, and work hard for the community to earn their support. ”

While organizations like One Arizona work to register more people to vote and to turn them out on Election Day, Rivero said it’s up to political parties to foster new leaders at all levels of government.

“We need to recruit, we need to train, and we need to prepare them for campaigns and we need to help them raise money, so it’s not just as simple as saying, ‘Oh this guy wants to run, he’s Hispanic. ’ We need to find good, intelligent, ethical candidates, and support them so they can succeed,” he said.

Lorenzo Sierra, a council member in Avondale, attributes the increase in Latino representation on his city’s council to three factors: exposure and leadership training, opportunities to run for open seats, and the candidates’ roots in the community.

“(Council members-elect Mike Pineda and Veronica Malone) have been in the community for a long time and part of their success was a good amount of turnout in the districts where they grew up,” Sierra said. ”
Prior to winning the election, Pineda served on the Littleton Elementary School District Governing Board.

In Avondale, where the average age is 30, Devin del Palacio is working to engage Millennials in local government.

In September, he started the Avondale United group to educate youth ages 15 and up about the different levels of government and how to use that knowledge to enact change.

“I think there is opportunity for more young people to get involved, for more people of diverse backgrounds to get involved. That’s what I want to see in the West Valley,” said Del Palacio, who recently ran for a council seat in Avondale but did not win.

Andrea (left) Gomez and Celina Gomez (right) are sisters and leaders on the Arizona Desert Elementary School’s student council. They posed for a photo during the inauguration of the new Tolleson City Council on December 13, 2016. (Photo: Laura Gómez/The Republic)
Back in Tolleson, three rows from where Tovar stood and took the oath of office, were Celina and Andrea Gomez, who are sisters and students at Arizona Desert Elementary School.

At 42 years old, Tovar is the youngest mayor in the West Valley.

And five West Valley cities — El Mirage, Surprise, Peoria, Goodyear and Tolleson — have female mayors.

Celina is the president of the student council, and Andrea is chair of the fifth grade. After the ceremony, they said they would both like to have a seat on city council one day.

“I would like to be another girl mayor and since I’m the president maybe I’d like to be mayor here, too,” Celina Gomez said.

West Valley council demographics

Avondale

Total population: 77,912.

Minority population: 60.4 percent.

Latino population: 43 percent.

Minorities on council: Bryan Kilgore, Lorenzo Sierra, Mike Pineda, Veronica Malone.

Tolleson

Total population: 6,806.

Minority population: 88.6 percent.

Latino population: 81.4 percent.

Minorities on council: All.

Goodyear

Total population: 79,003.

Minority population: 44.6 percent.

Latino population: 26.9 percent.

Minorities on council: None.

Buckeye

Total population: 62,582.

Minority population: 48 percent.

Latino population: 36.5 percent.

Minorities on council: Michelle Hess.

Glendale

Total population: 231,978.

Minority population: 49.9 percent.

Latino population: 36.9 percent.

Minorities on council: Jamie Aldama.

Peoria

Total population: 161,563.

Minority population: 27.6 percent.

Latino population: 18.1 percent.

Minorities on council: Bridget Binsbacher.

Surprise

Total population: 128,442.

Minority population: 30.5 percnet.

Latino population: 19.8 percent.

Minorities on council: None.

El Mirage

Total population: 33,010.

Minority population: 59.3 percent.

Latino population: 48.8 percent.

Minorities on council: Roy Delgado, Joe Ramirez.

Sources: American Community Survey 2010-2014, ACS 2015, Peoria, Buckeye and Glendale.

Source: Latinos gain, lose representation on West Valley city councils