The three candidates running for office to complete the unexpired term left in the 54th Assembly District when Holly Mitchell was elected to the State Senate are much like the district itself—a diverse collection of individuals.

The special election will be held Dec. 3, and if no one wins 50 percent plus one vote, a run-off takes place in February between the top two vote-getters. The winner of that contest will serve out the rest of the term, which ends in November 2014.

The 54th District is home to nearly equal concentarations of three of the state’s four main ethnic groups. Latinos comprise about 30 percent; Whites are a little more than 29 percent; and Blacks represent about 25 percent of residents. Asians trail with just a little under 13 percent of the population.

Politically Democrats dominate with about 63 percent of those living there identifying as democratic versus nearly 11 percent aligning with the Republican Party and a little more than 16 percent giving no party preference.

The 54th Assembly District includes the more upscale communties of Westwood, Culver City, Ladera Heights, View Park and Leimert Park as well as some of the more economically challenged neighborhoods in the Western/Slauson area.

According to Eric Baumanm, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic party and vice chair of the California Democratic party, among the key issues that need to be addressed district wide are providing residents with a quality education and preparing them for the future; quality healthcare; public safety and insuring that everybody sees a future for themselves.

In certain parts of the district, Bauman said he is also concerned about environmental justice.

Because of the diverse nature of the district, Bauman beleives that the person who can best represent the 54th AD is someone who can relate to many different kinds of people; someone strong at coalition building.

Bauman adds that the individual must also get to know the community and really dig in and make changes that will not only help the community flourish, but help people flourish as well.

Our Weekly sent each of the candidates a survey to gauge their thoughts on the 54th Assembly District; following find their answers.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, grew up in a household where “participatory politics and civic engagement” was a matter of course. His mother is Avis Ridley-Thomas, a pioneer in conflict resolution, and his father, Mark Ridley-Thomas, is chairman of the Los Angeles County Boad of Supervisors.

A graduate of Morehouse College, this race is his first foray into running for political office, but he is not a neophyte in the arena. He has served as policy director for Curren Price when he served in the State Assembly and advised him on economic development, transportation, housing, public safety and local government.

Ridley-Thomas was also a legsilative consultant to the California Senate Select Committee on Procurement; and was Price’s chief liaison to South Los Angeles’ faith-based organziatons and clergy.

He also worked with the Washington, D.C.-based Children’s Defense Fund, and his duties included helping to expand the organization’s freedom schools.

Why are you running for this office?

Because I believe I have the intelligence, public policy skill set, and a comprehensive working knowledge of our State Capitol and the legislative process to be a driving force for residents in South Los Angeles, Southwest Los Angeles, Culver City and West L.A.

Have you ever run for political office before?

I’ve never run for nor held political office before. But in my role as political director for the nine-member California Legislative Black Caucus, I played an up-close-and-personal strategic role in electing two outstanding members of the California State Assembly, when I served as campaign manager for Assembly members Cheryl Brown in the Inland Empire and Shirley Weber, Ph.D., in San Diego.

What unique talents/skills would you bring to this office, if elected?

In my past role as policy director for state Senator Curren D. Price Jr.—and in my present role as a policy advisor for economic development, education and health to L.A. City Council member Curren Price—I’m responsible for knowing the issues and knowing how state and local issues impact diverse constituents.

I know that enabling our small businesses to compete for state contracts can lead them to positions where they can expand their operations, and in turn, create new jobs for residents of our communities. I know that leveraging public, taxpayer-funded building projects to strongly encourage local hiring opens the doors to apprenticeships and training in union trades that can lead to 30-year careers and a comfortable retirement for job seekers presenting unemployed or stuck in low-paying positions that offer few benefits and even less of a future.

I know that leadership matters, and we have to push harder to ensure that residents of our communities get their fair share from Sacramento.

What do you consider the key issues in the 54th Assembly District, and briefly detail how you would address them?

The number one priority for people from the Westside to South Los Angeles is jobs. We must do our utmost to create new jobs. We can accomplish this, in part, by supporting small businesses. We must expand the abilities of small business owners to take advantage of local and state contracting opportunities.

It is essential that we redouble our efforts to help unemployed residents in the 54th Assembly District get connected to labor apprenticeship programs that will enable them to learn the hands-on skills they would need to begin a career in construction.

Our law enforcement agencies—from the LAPD to Culver City PD to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department—need to be assured they will have the resources, tools and community support to perform the challenging daily job of keeping our neighborhoods safe.

Community policing that engages community members and assesses their public safety needs is now a highly accepted form of law enforcement for two principal reasons: (1) It works and (2) Residents and business owners respond favorably when their public safety needs are met through collaboration with sworn officers on patrol and detectives in the field.

But public safety is not solely about more officers on our streets. We must dedicate resources to community-based efforts to prevent crimes from occurring. We must support effective programs that direct young people, who are vulnerable to the lure and solicitation of gang organizations, to supportive activities that enable them to envision their future as productive wage earners, skilled tradespersons, college graduates, career professionals, and ultimately, retirees with a fixed income they can count on.

But rather than solely focus on public safety and youth intervention and diversion programs, let’s start at the beginning of education—and get it right—to meet the learning needs of our children. Early childhood education for children 6 months to 5 year olds is critical to our economic future.

We must engage First 5 LA and LAUP (Los Angeles Universal Preschool) to ensure that our public dollars dedicated for preschool education give our children the best learning bang for our buck, and provide working parents throughout our 54th Assembly District with safe, secure and nurturing learning environments for their kids.

Should legislation to ban-the-box be implemented state wide and in the private sector?

On the “ban-the-box” proposal, I support Governor (Jerry) Brown’s signing of AB 218 last month (October 2013). Starting July 1, 2014, government employers throughout the State of California are banned from asking job applicants about their criminal records until later in the hiring process. I believe the new law strikes a right approach; ex-offenders aren’t punished for the rest of their lives in the early stage of the employment process due to a criminal record, but the law still enables an employer to learn information about the people they seek to hire, employ and compensate for their on-the-job work, before a person is hired.

You have never held political office before, how will you convince voters that you can do the job, and give them what they want and need?
I have the experience, drive and dedication to capably serve our community with distinction, intelligence and vigor in the California State Assembly.
As a public policy director, community organizer and advocate for consumers, children and small businesses, I rolled up my sleeves to deliver results for the residents of our community. My commitment to public service is born from my desire to address problems by working with residents to implement sensible solutions.
My experiences have prepared me for the policy responsibilities and the commitment that is needed to represent the people of the 54th Assembly District.

What do you think your youth is adding to this political contest? What are the challenges posed by your age and how will you overcome them?

My challengers may point to my age and deride the youth (age 26) and energy I bring to the political process. But I am undeterred. In fact, I’m encouraged by history.

Many of our great leaders took on enormous responsibilities when they were younger men. Martin Luther King Jr. was 29 when he took the helm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. President John F. Kennedy was 29 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here is Los Angeles, Congressman Augustus Hawkins was 27 when he was elected to the California State Assembly. The political history on L.A.’s Westside has clearly shown that age is no stumbling block for aspiring leaders. A pivotal figure in the dawning of the modern age of Los Angeles, Rosalind Wiener “Roz” Wyman is regarded as one of the bright lights of her political era as representative of the 5th Council District on the L.A. City Council. Wyman is widely acknowledged as the woman to helped engineer the Dodgers move from their storied home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Chavez Ravine north of downtown L.A. in 1958. She was 28-years old at the time of the Dodgers’ historic first game in Los Angeles.

Westside voters elected Wyman to office six years before the Dodgers moved to L.A. She was 22-years-old. To this day, Roz Wyman remains the youngest person ever elected to the L.A. City Council.

Less than 20-years later, Westside voters chose a former UCLA student activist who had fought the oppression of Jews by the Soviet Union as their city council representative. Zev Yaroslavsky’s election in 1975 would usher him into a leadership role as L.A.’s fiscal watchdog.

Yaroslavsky was elected to represent the city 5th Council District at age 26.

John Jake, is a native Angelino born in the Pico Gardens housing project in East Los Angeles. His family of seven siblings and a mother and father moved to the 8th Council District during his early childhood.

Jake graduated from Birmingham High School with a football scholarship to the University of Idaho, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications.

In 2008, the economic doldrum the country was in, forced him to switch career tracks, and Jake moved into real estate. It was there he hopped onto the leadership track. He was elected a board member of the Consolidated Board of Realtists. This was followed at the end of the year by his election to the board of the Olympic Park Neighborhood Council (OPNC), then vice president in 2010 and president in 2012.

Why are you running for this office?

I love this community and truly enjoy public service. I’m married with a daughter, and it is of paramount importance that my family as well as my constituents and their families are able to live in a safe, viable and thriving community.

Have you ever run for political office before?

Yes.

Have you ever held a political office before?

Yes. I started running for political office in 2008 when I was elected to the board of the Olympic Park Neighborhood Council. In 2010, I was elected as vice president and chairman of outreach. In 2012, I was elected as the president and vhairman of planning and zoning, which is the position I’m currently in, and I govern approximately 20,000 households in my district.

What unique talents/skills would you bring to this office, if elected?

I’m a fighter; I’ve been through adversity. I’m seasoned. I build relationships and depend on partnerships to complete projects. I’ve been working as an elected official in this capacity more than the last five years for the city of Los Angeles. I multi-task, and that’s what this office needs. I’m currently running a city organization (OPNC), I’m currently running my real estate firm— John Jake & Company—and I’m raising a family. This office needs some that knows how to fight, multi-task and won’t take no as an answer, and I’m that candidate. So, just imagine what I can do if I was fully focused on this office as a career.

What do you consider the key issues in the 54th Assembly District, and briefly detail how you would address them?

Jobs–I’ll work to secure funding for mom-and-pop businesses. I’ll work on the no-cap credit to keep entertainment jobs local and work towards rebuilding our infrastructure so we can send construction workers back to work.

Education–More teachers. Less students per class. I would go to Sacramento and fight for the funds to reduce classroom sizes. I’ll find the money and will help bring back that quality education Los Angeles students truly deserve, to help them compete on the world stage.

Transportation–Traffic is a way of life here in Los Angeles, however to ease drivers’ pain, I would work with our transportation department to expand freeways and help rebuild our roads. I’ll also bring in the brightest transportation minds from N.Y., D.C. and Atlanta to create a metro system mirroring their own successful cities.

The 54th AD is extremely diverse ethnically, economically, and demographically. How will you insure that ALL constituents feel their needs are being addressed?

I would treat everyone the same. Being cultured and socialized in very diverse places makes it a little easier for myself than the other candidates to communicate to this diverse district. I was born in the Pico Garden projects in East L.A., moved to South Central at a young age. I went to school at 42nd Street School, Parkman Jr. High in Woodland Hills, Audubon Jr. High in Los Angeles, Birmingham High in Encino/Van Nuys, L.A. Valley Community College in Van Nuys and graduated from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Also, I lived in Seattle, Wash., Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Ga. This diverse background, I believe is unmatched by the others in the race, and I believe it will help with accomplishing what’s needed in the 54th AD.

How will you connect with all of your constituents?

I would do what I’m doing now in my community. I would partner up with the council offices, police and fire departments and other groups in the district and put on events that are geared towards community issues. These include health fairs, job fairs, as well as police and fire department community outreach events. I would also host free buffet dinners at a local restaurant, create beautification projects and help establish Historical Preservation Overlay Zones in neighborhoods throughout the district.

What will you do if the needs of one group of constituents conflict with the needs of another?

I would bring both of those groups together and have a conflict resolution meeting with the top leaders so it can be a win-win for both groups.

How do think the challenge of juvenile crime should be addressed? For example, how would you help someone under age 20 with felonies and multiple strikes?

I believe we must start with re-educating these individuals. I’ll start with traveling workshops for felons and multiple offenders. I’ll take these workshops (how to do a resume, how to interview, how to dress, etc …) into the communities and partner up with organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the Masons, the NAACP and the Urban League just to name a few. I’ll bring in sponsors to underwrite the programs and hire these juveniles to work on these projects.

Should legislation to ban-the-box be implemented state wide and in the private sector?

Yes.

How would you encourage the private sector to implement ban-the-box?

I would work with the banks to loosen the knot on loaning money to the private sector and give incentives to businesses that are willing to ban-the-box.

I would start with the mom and pop businesses and move from there, because I believe you have the highest concentration of employees with a criminal record working for smaller companies. These individuals have more of a chance here, than anywhere else. I would put together a survey and send it throughout the area and get feedback from these owners, so we can understand why they choose that person to work for them. I would then use this concrete information to encourage employers to give people with criminal records a chance at a job and a future.

What must be done to re-engage disconnected 16-25 year olds into the work world?

We need to create outlets for them to engage in. We need to participate in their lives; giving them direction in this world and mentoring them and their friends who are in need. We must outreach and create jobs for them. Without our guidance, most of them will walk around aimlessly in a state of shock throughout their lives.

What must be done to insure that ALL students graduate job/career/college ready?

More teachers. Less students per class. We also must fight to find the money to put back into education systems so our kids can be college- or career-ready. We must work endlessly to turn around the last 40 years of our education in Los Angeles, taking us from fifth in the nation in the late 1960s to under 30th in the county today.

How will you convince voters that you can deliver what they want and need?

The core message of my campaign is I will listen to my constituents, absorb their concerns and work hard to establish an open line of communication between my office and their everyday lives. I believe active engagement is needed to create development of our infrastructure and will concentrate my efforts to offer better assistance to those within the community who are in the greatest amount of need.

What is the first piece of legislation you plan to introduce, if elected?

I plan to talk it over with my advisors (the voters) and will weigh the urgency of each issue before I introduce legislation in our district.

What will it take for you to gain the name recognition among constituents to win election?

I believe the more the public sees me and hears my platform, the better chance I have to win this election. I’m for the people, and when the people meet me and hear my journey, they feel very comfortable telling me their story because I can relate to them. The voters that I’ve met know that I mean what I say and will do what the people want. I’m the only grassroots candidate in this race and will continue building my base from the bottom up.

Christopher Arementa. Running on the platform of “Proven Leadership and Experience,” Armenta, 49, is touting his 25 years of local and state government political leadership—former mayor, councilman and city clerk in Culver City—as a key reason why he is the best candidate for the 54th Assembly District seat.

Included among his supporters is the Culver City Democratic Club, who endorsed Armenta’s candidacy after he won 78 percent of the membership vote at its Nov. 13 general meeting.

An accountant by training, Armenta has spent 35 years in the district and counts as his greatest joy serving the youth in this community as a past coach, commissioner, and volunteer for the Culver City American Youth Soccer Organization, (AYSO).

Armenta vows to protect our valued state services when it comes to the areas of education, the environment, jobs and the economy, healthcare, and public safety.

Despite numerous attempts by phone and e-mail, OW was unable to secure Armenta’s answers to the our candidate survey and consequently used information from his website and Facebook page.