SM PIER — Last Wednesday, as sunset graced the waters of the Santa Monica Bay and cool night breezes chased away the last vestiges of the day’s heat, a political rally carried on at the Mariasol Mexican restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier.
Although campaign fever has descended on Santa Monica, this event had nothing to do with who would sit on the dais at City Hall, although many hopefuls, past and present, were in attendance.
Instead it was about boosting a local, Ana Cubas, who has thrown her name into a crowded fight for the Ninth District of the Los Angeles City Council race, the seat vacated by Jan Perry for her run for mayor.
After the redistricting process was finalized in the beginning of this year, the new Ninth District stretched north to include wealthy parts of Downtown like USC and LA Live as well as its traditional territories of South Los Angeles.
Cubas, most recently the chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, grew up in Santa Monica after she and her family escaped El Salvador as political refugees when she was 10 years old.
When she came, she could not speak English. Today, she has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in public affairs and urban and regional planning from Princeton University.
In part, that had to do with the opportunities she had in Santa Monica that kids in the newly-redrawn Ninth District don’t, like a plethora of parks and after-school programs, Cubas said.
Bringing those kinds of amenities to the Ninth, which she describes as an area that City Hall forgot, is the basis of the campaign she launched in May.
In her campaign, which she calls Back to Basics, Cubas stresses her intention to create a movement of young leaders by focusing on bringing jobs to the area by attracting clean technology industries, creating new educational opportunities by strengthening partnerships with USC and other agencies and greening the city with parks, new trees and community gardens.
“People in south L.A. should be entitled to what kids get here,” Cubas said, referring to Santa Monica.
When Cubas’ family arrived in Santa Monica, they moved into an apartment with an uncle. The name of the complex, called “La Coyotera,” referenced places immigrants were dropped off after they crossed the border.
Her father supported the family by working as a day laborer, and her mother continues to serve as a domestic worker on the Westside.
She enrolled at Edison Language Academy before it officially adopted its bilingual program although her teacher in both fifth and sixth grades spoke Spanish and English.
Cubas went to John Adams Junior High — it later changed its name to John Adams Middle School — and on to Santa Monica High School where she joined the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, more commonly called MEChA.
It was at Samohi that Cubas had an experience that changed the course of her life.
Her advanced placement U.S. history teacher, Patrick Cady, came to her in class with a book of courses from UC Berkeley.
“When they still had books for that,” she said, laughing.
He told her to look through it, that she could succeed in the school, which turned out to be Cady’s alma mater.
Cubas, already developing an interest in politics, was intrigued by some of the course titles and decided to go for it. The first time she saw the Berkeley campus was when she walked on as a freshman.
To this day, Cubas acknowledges Cady for inspiring her to become the first member of her family to go to college.
Cady doesn’t take much of the credit.
“I adored her when I had her. She had a wonderful smile, and was one of those people who was fun to teach,” Cady said. “To say to her, ‘Oh yeah, you can do the work at Berkeley,” seem sort of stupid. Of course she could.”
Now, Cubas is competing against a small army of others, including Assemblyman Mike Davis and fundraising heavyweight Terry Hara, a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Cubas is hoping that her policy experience gained while working at the U.S. Department of Education under the Clinton administration, the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento and the government and nonprofit education sectors in the Los Angeles region itself will prove to voters that she has the chops to make it as a council member.
“I have the experience,” Cubas said. “I don’t have that fear because I know what it takes.”
Local politicians feel the same way.
“(Cubas) knows the mechanics of getting public officials to pay attention to communities that have traditionally suffered from social neglect,” said Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.