Endorsement: Lola Smallwood-Cuevas for state Senate
A dozen years ago, as the nation was rebounding from the Great Recession, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas helped launch a new effort to help Black people in Los Angeles get more — and better — work.
Unemployment among African Americans nationwide was 16.3% at the time, compared with 8.7% for whites and 12% for Latinos. Many of the aerospace and automaking jobs that had once boosted Black families into the middle class had long disappeared from Southern California. Smallwood-Cuevas founded the Black Worker Center at UCLA with a mission to improve employment prospects for African Americans in Los Angeles.
She quickly became instrumental in getting more Black residents into construction jobs by connecting them with training and pushing government contractors to prioritize local hires in building infrastructure projects. A major success was the Metro Crenshaw line, which employed almost no Black workers when Smallwood-Cuevas analyzed the project in 2013. Through her center’s efforts, two years later, Black residents made up about 20% of the project’s workforce. Even though California bans racial preferences in hiring, Smallwood-Cuevas displayed problem-solving acumen by pushing for hiring preferences for residents who had once been incarcerated or were in the foster care system — exactly the people who need access to good jobs to break cycles of poverty.
The organization’s success was recognized by President Obama and put Smallwood-Cuevas at the vanguard of a national movement to address racial and economic inequity through strategic training initiatives and stronger alliances between labor unions and Black communities.
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A Democrat, Smallwood-Cuevas is now running to represent the 28th state Senate District, which includes South L.A. and Culver City, in Sacramento. The seat is now held by state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, who is not seeking reelection because she’s running for Rep. Karen Bass’ seat in Congress. Bass, of course, is running for Los Angeles mayor.
As a director of the UCLA Labor Center, Smallwood-Cuevas has an impressive track record that blends big-picture thinking about economic trends with on-the-ground advocacy to improve the lives of working people. She’s supported state policies to increase the minimum wage, strengthen anti-discrimination laws and spur construction of more affordable housing.
Smallwood-Cuevas’ opponent on the Nov. 8 ballot is fellow Democrat Cheryl Turner, an attorney who owns a private practice. She has served on several boards and commissions, including a state board of vocational nursing and a local tourism commission, and is currently the president of the board of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, which lobbies for landlords. Turner has an admirable record of community service but lacks a clear vision for her campaign.
Smallwood-Cuevas is a mission-driven candidate who has demonstrated the creativity and tenacity that can make her successful in the state Capitol. Her record indicates that she will be a passionate advocate for her communities as well as a thoughtful policymaker. Voters should give her the opportunity to put her expertise to work to benefit all Californians.
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