LocationAlhambra , CA
When Alhambra’s voters just cast their ballots in this week’s election, two of the five City Council seats were at stake, and voters chose to replace Mayor David Mejia with first-time candidate Sasha Renée Pérez.
When she is sworn in Dec. 14, Pérez will become Mayor.
Though the mayoral title is mostly symbolic and rotates among City Council members, Pérez will have unseated a formidable opponent. Mejia, a Los Angeles police sergeant, is an experienced Alhambra politician with four years on the council and eight on city commissions with support from longtime political heavyweights including Barbara Messina.
“Beating an incumbent is no easy task, and I wasn’t going to underestimate the people I was competing against,” Pérez said. One of Mejia’s supporters dubbed her the “Latina in the Arena” for taking on the mayor.
Pérez had some political strength behind her as well. Current council member Adele Andrade-Stadler is a vocal supporter, and she had endorsements from Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and numerous labor unions and community organizations.
Andrade-Stadler has been involved in both of Alhambra’s school and city politics. This year she backed Pérez and the challengers for the school board election, all of whom won their races based on initial results.
Andrade-Stadler said she met Pérez a year ago and has been advising her on how to run a campaign, introducing her to other local officials and activating her own network to also support Pérez’s campaign.
Pérez had a massive volunteer team of all ages, union members and students who helped canvas all five districts.
“One good thing that comes with age,” Andrade-Stadler said with a laugh, “is it allows you to bring in contacts. It allows you to move an agenda, if you will. I feel good about this election.”
Andrade-Stadler said that Pérez, despite her youth, is up for the job. “She has policy experience. And that’s what we do on the council, create policy,” Andrade-Stadler said. “She has a lot to learn as far as functions of our government but she’s a quick study.”
At 28 years old, Pérez has spent her life surrounded by and fighting for change in public policy to promote access, equality and affordability. She hails from a pro-union household, is a product of city, brought up through the Alhambra school system and attended Cal State LA.
Some in the community have compared her to U.S. House of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but Pérez has mixed feelings about the title. “It’s extremely flattering, but a big title to be expected to carry,” she said. “I get worried about disappointing people.”
Pérez does seem to be part of a younger, candid and homegrown wave of western San Gabriel Valley politicians. For example, Scarlet Peralta, a year younger than Pérez, led the pack of Montebello council member elections. She also has public policy experience and ran on a similar platform to Pérez. Peralta comes from a working-class Latino family and is a life-long resident of her city too.
Andrade-Stadler said she thinks the next few elections will have more young people running for local offices as they build coalitions and engage with their community and that Pérez is among them.
“I felt like my race in particular was a real test to see if Alhambra was ready for a really serious progressive change,” Pérez said. “I ran on an unapologetically progressive platform.”
The seven-point platform on which she ran includes goals for environmental protections, community improvements and financial recovery.
“These are progressive issues,” she said. “I don’t think that it was necessarily just me people were voting for; it was the things I was fighting for.”
Looking at her upcoming term, Pérez said she is trying to have an open mind and as few expectations as possible. She said, however, she does have the mindset that she is ready to work, whatever that work may be, to improve Alhambra.
Pérez said she is excited to work on an environmental action plan and is happy that Council member Jeff Maloney, who was reelected, has made it a priority too.
While serving on City Council, Pérez will continue her current job as student engagement manager at The Campaign for College Opportunity.
Pérez says she is “really excited and incredibly humbled” by those who have supported her campaign which she believes spoke to “what it means living here” and was reflective of the community’s issues.
Before she starts meetings to begin transitioning to City Council, Pérez said she will take the rest of the week to sit in her pajamas, recover from the last year of campaigning and process her win. “I’m just… still speechless,” she said.