Ed Reyes entered politics with the idea that he could use his education to serve the neighborhood he grew up in. He is a first-generation Mexican American, raised in Lincoln Heights. Reyes received his master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA, becoming the first member of his family to attend college. He then used his background in urban planning to advance into city politics, and has served on the Los Angeles City Council since 2001.
Reyes currently represents the first council district, which includes his own neighborhood as well as Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Solano Canyon, Elysian Park, Echo Park, Westlake, Angelino Heights, Temple-Beaudry, Lafayette Park, Chinatown, Forgotten Edge, Montecito Heights, Pico-Union, Adams-Normandie, Mid Cities and MacArthur Park. He describes this area as the “original suburbs,” an area that experienced urban flight with the incoming amount of diversity. The district is currently home to a large majority of Latino and Asian Americans.
Not sure at first which candidate he would support in the 2008 Democratic primary, Reyes took a moment to get to know the candidates. After attending a meeting with then-Senator Barack Obama in downtown Los Angeles, and reading his autobiography, “Dreams of My Father,” Reyes threw his support behind the Chicago politician.
“He was very straightforward and very knowledgeable about the issues that we’re facing,” explains the councilmember.
He also cited Obama’s exposure to the Mexican American community in Chicago as a tool that gave him the experience Reyes believes is important for leading the country.
Reyes is currently involved in the president’s campaign through his support of the local North East Democratic Club, attending club meetings, and speaking at press conferences on the president’s behalf to gain more support in the upcoming election.
According to Reyes, one of the most important issues that impacts Latinos is jobs. He explains that there is a two-tier system, with undocumented workers in one tier, and citizens in the formal economy in the other; there is a disconnect between the two tiers.
“People [are] being left behind,” says Reyes.
Those in the first tier often work in harsh labor conditions that should not be allowed, but are ignored because they are undocumented. Being undocumented makes people a vulnerable target for abuse in the workplace, explains Reyes who sees the Dream Act as a step toward solving this two-tier system issue.
“The Dream Act gives us hopes that we’re going in the right direction. It begins to shed light on those who have stayed in the dark because they are afraid of being deported,” explained the Councilman.
In relation to immigration reform, Reyes says, “There is still a significant gap President Obama needs to close between the [two] parties. With the gap it’s hard to move forward with issues such as immigration.”
In tackling the issue of jobs, Reyes explains that what has to be understood is the context of what President Obama inherited upon stepping into the Oval Office.
“The economy was spiraling down. He was able to gain some footing and some stability . . . . He’s worked with our cities.”
Reyes mentions the Los Angeles River Project as a project the Obama administration is currently involved in. Reyes, as well as other officials in the first district are working with the Obama administration to fund the Urban River Corps Program, which would provide jobs and environmental skills training to young adults, while restoring the river’s ecosystem.
“He’s pulling everyone along,” says Reyes.
Other administrations have promoted a trickle-down theory that just does not work, says Reyes.
The councilmember also notes the social implications of the president’s re-election.
“What happens to many of our youth is that we get lost because we are not treated as Americans because of the way we look, but we’re not treated as individuals.”
Finally, Reyes explains that there is a need to strengthen the self-esteem of minorities.
This [Obama’s] re-election means that we can continue with our trend of praising diversity.”