Activist Jose Galvan Enters Race for 39th District Seat


Veteran campaigner and activist Jose Galvan, spurning efforts by state Sen. Richard Polanco to consolidate Latino support in the 39th Assembly District behind the candidacy of realtor Tony Cardenas, said Tuesday he will enter the race.

“Nobody knows this guy Cardenas,” the 52-year-old Galvan said as he announced his candidacy for the seat now held by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar). “He has zero involvement in the community.”

Galvan, a librarian for the city of Los Angeles, said he resented what he sees as efforts to anoint Cardenas, a 32-year-old political novice, by the Latino Legislative Caucus, an organization led by Polanco (D-Los Angeles) that comprises all Latino legislators in Sacramento.

“It’s an insult to us that they’re pushing Cardenas; are we supposed to step aside?” Galvan said. “Baloney! We’re not going to let somebody come in here and tell us who to support.”


The 39th Assembly District has a 65% Latino population; however, because the Latino population is disproportionately youthful and many of its members are not citizens, the Latino turnout is expected to equal only about 25% to 30% of the vote in the Democratic primary.

There are now three Anglo candidates in the Democratic primary: former state Assemblyman Jim Keysor; veteran legislative aide Jim Dantona, and attorney Valerie Salkin.

In an interview, Galvan likened Polanco’s support for Cardenas to the way political power is transferred in Mexico by the ruling PRI party. “It’s the dedo [Spanish for finger ],” Galvan said. “They [the political elite] have put the finger on Cardenas. But that’s not the way we do things in the U.S.”

Galvan has run five times in the past for public office; his last outing was against U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) in the 1992 Democratic primary. In that race, he ran a distant second to Berman, getting only 4,000 votes.

Galvan is a paradigm of the Latino activist. The son of migrant field hands who calls United Farm Workers union leader Cesar Chavez a “personal hero,” Galvan is a Vietnam veteran and was a Latino student activist in the 1960s who helped organize the Valley chapter of the Mexican-American Political Assn.

In recent years, he has picketed the offices of everyone from U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) for supporting Proposition 187, the measure to deny government services to illegal immigrants, to Katz for supporting the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In 1992, Galvan was a lead plaintiff in litigation brought to create a new Latino-based school board seat in the Valley, and in the mid-1980s he led efforts to block the eviction of Latino tenants from the so-called Bryant-Vanalden project in Northridge.

Galvan said he never saw Cardenas participate in Latino affairs until the last few months “when he began campaigning.”

Cardenas, reacting to Galvan’s criticism, admitted Tuesday that he has not been a Latino political activist like Galvan but said that he has contributed in his own way to the residents of the northeast Valley, noting his participation in a business advisory group to Mayor Richard Riordan and in the LAUSD’s adopt-a-school program.

“I applaud the many hours he [Galvan] has put into community issues,” Cardenas said. “But I’m sorry he’s critical of my own record of contributing.” Alejandro Padilla, Cardenas’ press deputy, also denied that his boss was a Polanco political creation. “Tony said he wanted to run, and then he earned Polanco’s support and that of the caucus,” Padilla said. “And we’re the ones knocking on voters’ doors, not Polanco.”

Another potential candidate gathering signatures to get his name on the ballot in the district’s Democratic primary is Michael del Rio, 30, who served a year as a field deputy to state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Van Nuys) after running against the senator in the 1994 Democratic primary.