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Nancy Pelosi endorses former Rep. Gil Cisneros in L.A.-area House race

A closeup of Gil Cisneros facing left, his chin on his right hand
Gil Cisneros is one of six Democrats seeking retiring Rep. Grace Napolitano’s seat representing the San Gabriel Valley area in the U.S. House.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has endorsed Democrat Gil Cisneros in the race for a San Gabriel Valley-based House seat that is open for the first time in a generation.

“Gil Cisneros is an outstanding public servant and leader,” Pelosi said in a statement released Thursday, noting a variety of legislation the two had collaborated on together in Congress.

He “is a shining example of an elected official who fights for people, not corporate special interests,” she continued. “I am proud to endorse him and I look forward to serving with him again.”

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Cisneros previously represented an Orange County district in Congress.

The endorsement is significant because Pelosi rarely picks favorites in Democratic primaries and Cisneros is one of 11 candidates who have filed to compete for the seat that has been held by Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk) for the last 25 years. Napolitano, who at 87 is the oldest member of the U.S. House, announced in July that she would not seek reelection in 2024.

“I am profoundly honored to receive the endorsement of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi,” Cisneros said. “Speaker Pelosi’s steadfast leadership and unwavering commitment to advancing progressive values have been transformative for our nation. This endorsement not only reflects her confidence in our shared vision for a better America, but also underscores the importance of our collective pursuit of accessible healthcare, quality education, and economic opportunities for all.”

Rep. Grace Napolitano announced her retirement from Congress on Saturday, setting off an intra-Democratic Party battle for her San Gabriel Valley seat.

July 8, 2023

Cisneros is running in the 31st Congressional District, which includes the cities of Azusa, Baldwin Park, Bradbury, Covina, Duarte, El Monte, Irwindale, La Puente, La Verne, San Dimas, South El Monte and West Covina. In October, he moved to El Monte from Virginia, and previously lived in Orange County.

Cisneros served one term in the House in 2019-2020 after winning a competitive race in a Orange County district narrowly divided between Republican and Democratic voters. He was one of several freshman lawmakers seeking to make change, joining those who first moved to impeach then-President Trump, as well as the small group of House Democrats who signed a letter pledging to oppose Pelosi’s return as speaker. At the time, Cisneros said that he respected the San Francisco Democrat but that his constituents were asking for a change. Pelosi eventually reached a deal with the lawmakers to limit her time as speaker to an additional four years.

Cisneros lost reelection in 2020 to Republican Young Kim, and was later appointed by President Biden to be undersecretary of Defense, overseeing military personnel and readiness until he resigned in September to run for the House again. He moved back to California from McLean, Va., where he had lived for the last two years.

The Associated Press has called the 39th Congressional District race for Republican Young Kim, marking the second race in the county in which the GOP took back a district Democrats had flipped in 2018.

Nov. 13, 2020

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Cisneros said he was raised in a family of veterans, serving in the Navy after high school and then becoming the first member of his family to graduate college. Around 2004, he began working as a shipping and distribution manager for Frito-Lay until one day in 2010, when he won a $255-million lottery jackpot that would change his life.

Cisneros was 39 when he came into the fortune that propelled him into philanthropic work. He and his wife started the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation to fund college education for Latinos in the Pico Rivera area.

In 2014, after earning an MBA, he got a second master’s degree in urban education, and was later appointed to then-President Obama’s Advisory Council for the Arts — Cisneros’ first political appointment.

Napolitano has endorsed California state Sen. Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera) to take her place in the House.

The race has attracted a large field of six Democrats, three Republicans and two third-party candidates, according to filings with the L.A. County Registrar’s Office. The other Democratic candidates include Citrus Community College Trustee Mary Ann Lutz, state Sen. Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park and personal injury lawyer Greg Hafif. The Republican candidates are Elvira Moreno, Pedro Antonio Casas and Daniel Bocic Martinez, who also ran for Napolitano’s seat in 2022.

The district is heavily Democratic, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 2 to 1, with Latinos making up about 55% of its residents.

Cisneros himself was once a registered Republican.

“I am a Democrat,” he told The Times when asked about the switch. “I will put my Democratic record up against [my opponents’] any day.”

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