Latino political clout on the rise in Salinas mayoral race.
Thursday, October 15, 1998
She was the first Latina elected to the Salinas City Council back in 1991, and come election day, it appears likely that Anna Caballero will claim another political landmark--this time as Salinas'' first Latina mayor.
Should Caballero defeat opponent Rob Roberts for the mayoral seat--as many consider likely--her victory will signal not only the continuing influence of the Latino community as a serious political force to be reckoned with in Monterey County, but the arrival of a politician with the potential to become a leader on a state or national level.
Roberts, a home health aid who is also coordinating the campaign for Republican 27th Assembly candidate Philip Chavez, says he entered the race primarily to give voters a choice in the mayoral race. Roberts is also a former radio talk show host known for his conservative and sometimes controversial commentaries.
According to the Sacramento-based Latino Caucus, 17 Latinas currently serve as mayors to a host of California cities, primarily in Southern California. If elected, Caballero would lead the largest of those cities, both in terms of population and economic clout.
Caballero''s emergence as a community and political leader parallels the rise of the Latino/Chicano movement in California from political outsiders to insiders. On a personal level, Caballero''s political aspirations represent a commitment to community service that began in 1979 when she earned a law degree from UCLA and went to work as a staff attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) in Salinas.
"I went to law school to work with people who didn''t have access to legal services, and with my interest in labor law, I came to Salinas to work with farmworkers," says Caballero, who cites the farmworker and Chicano movements as significant forces in her political development.
"My family background is in labor and I grew up around labor issues," notes Caballero. "During my college years I was very much influenced by the Chicano movement and recognized that I was able to get an education because of the work of those who preceded me. I felt an obligation to community service and that was the reason I went into law."
Caballero left the CRLA in 1982 to open her own law office and to focus on juvenile and criminal defense work. Finding that her private practice work fell somewhat short in terms of personal satisfaction, Caballero decided to get involved in local politics.
Up until 1989, Salinas held at-large city elections. According to Caballero, that meant that Latino candidates had to appeal to all segments of the community, and couldn''t rely on predominately Latino districts to get elected.
"That takes political maturation for both the community and for candidates that can appeal and express the interests of the entire community," says Caballero, who feels Latina candidates like herself have the additional burden of their gender.
"I think it has been hard for some Latinos to accept leadership by a Latina, but I don''t think that is cultural," says Caballero, who thinks the acceptance of women as political leaders has been part of an evolutionary process across the political/cultural spectrum.
"It''s been a challenge for women to put themselves in leadership positions, and it''s been a challenge for me."
Caballero says the growing Latino political influence in recent years is due in part to the growing number of good qualified candidates, an increase in voter registration among Latinos, and the switch from at-large to district elections that better reflect the Latino power base.
Having represented District 6 in the northeast part of Salinas on the City Council for seven years, and serving on the city''s Planning Commission for five years, Caballero says her primary goals as mayor will be to serve as both a consensus builder for the council, and as a liaison between the city and electorate.
"The mayor speaks on behalf of the entire council and sets the tone for meetings," says Caballero. "The mayor is really the glue that holds the council together, and it was in recognition of that I decided to run. The opportunity to build consensus is critical if the council is to move forward. It takes leadership, vision and experience for the future.
"With Alan [Styles] running for Assembly, it took someone with experience and understanding of the growing pains the city has gone through," adds Caballero. "I wanted to step into a leadership role to be able to lead the council and community."
As far as outgoing Mayor Styles is concerned, Caballero''s long-time commitment to the community makes her an ideal choice for mayor.
"Anna has a deep caring for the community and understands the issues in neighborhoods," says Styles. "She''s been a peace builder on the council and is well-respected across the community from the standpoint of her ability to reason and compromise. She is extremely knowledgeable and well-rounded."
In terms of her agenda, Caballero says education, gang violence, and a focus on public/private partnerships will be top priorities.
"We need programs to help us give opportunities to young people," says Caballero. "There are huge political and financial limitations, and the city doesn''t have the resources to set up or execute programs that will do what we need to do.
"I want to provide hope, programs and educational opportunities, but what is required is a new level of commitment that goes beyond the financial/structural problem. What we need to do is set up a program with institutions like schools that can impact young people."
As far as future city growth is concerned, Caballero supports continued development, but acknowledges that Salinas will have to annex additional land if the city is to grow.
"There will be a continued need for affordable housing, industrial and commercial development, and I believe annexation will be required to maintain our economic viability," says Caballero.
Although Caballero says she has been approached in the past to seek state or national office, she insists she isn''t looking at becoming mayor of Salinas as a springboard for higher office.
"I''ve been asked to consider the state assembly and a congressional seat at different times, but right now I really enjoy local politics," says Caballero. "People know me and I like that communication.
"I like the fact that Salinas is a rural community, that the people are friendly and that there is a feeling of community. That makes me feel good," adds Caballero. "To go further and be involved in politics takes a lot of sacrifice. It means giving a lot up." cw