Marcos Bretón

Opinion: Young, Latino and a candidate for City Council

Eric Guerra
Eric Guerra jvillegas@sacbee.com

One of the most interesting political races in recent Sacramento history is also one of the least noticed.

It’s the special election to fill the Sacramento City Council seat vacated by Kevin McCarty, and likely will be decided by as few as 6,000 voters on April 7.

But the results of the contest between Eric Guerra and Bruce Pomer will have much broader implications.

It’s already been noted that if Guerra prevails, the 36-year-old son of farmworkers will be the first Latino on the Sacramento City Council in nearly 20 years.

While an interesting footnote, the peril for Guerra is if voters perceive he is only about his ethnicity. He is not.

He made that clear recently while discussing his grass-roots candidacy, energized by a small army of neighborhood volunteers operating out of his Tahoe Park garage. “I want to represent everyone,” Guerra said.

People often wonder why Sacramento, a city with a Latino population of roughly 27 percent, hasn’t elected a Latino or Latina since Deborah Ortiz back in the 1990s. Frankly, there hasn’t been a solid candidate who happened to be Latino until Guerra appeared on the scene.

Tina Thomas, one of the most politically connected lawyers in Sacramento, compares Guerra to the late Joe Serna Jr. – Sacramento’s mayor for much of the 1990s.

“I was really taken by his willingness to lead in this community,” Thomas said of Guerra.

“He has energy and wisdom beyond his relative youth. … He reminds me very much of the Joe Serna I met 35 years ago.”

Guerra’s story has appeal that cuts across ethnicities, an up-from-the-bootstraps tale of hard labor as a child, of living out of his car as a college student and paying for his college classes at Sacramento State by working as a janitor on the graveyard shift.

He achieved advance degrees in urban planning, was president of his class at Sacramento State, works at the state Capitol, is chairman of the County Planning Commission and is active in the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association.

But before comparing him to Serna, think twice.

Serna came of age in the 1960s and 70s, during protest and social upheaval.

Influenced by his times, Serna was sometimes called a bully for his blunt ways. Years ago, Serna told me that he always felt that he had blown his first try at Sacramento mayor because he came on too strong, scared voters and gave the impression of being “mean” to former Mayor Anne Rudin.

Guerra is a different sort, a different generation and shouldn’t be judged by ideas of the past.

Guerra’s manner is collegial and respectful. You can’t spend any time around him without being impressed by his warmth, his life story and his love for his community.

Guerra is proud of his ethnic background, but his political identity is more linked to this district than anything else.

Like most people whose votes he needs, Guerra was against the strong-mayor initiative pushed by Mayor Kevin Johnson last year.

Many major campaign contributors have sat out this race, so Guerra won’t be beholden to anyone if elected.

He would be about the neighborhoods he would represent but his views about greater Sacramento are also hopeful and positive – like those of the many energetic young people reshaping Sacramento’s arts and business communities.

“On past city councils you had real provincial thinking,” said Ed Manning, a lobbyist and voter in Sacramento’s District 6 – which includes Sierra Oaks, College Greens, Tahoe Park, Elmhurst and other distinct neighborhoods.

“Some (council members) almost had a negative bent. The future is with someone like Eric, who would represent young families and a new generation of leaders who don’t see Sacramento as a small place but as a comfortable place that can be more than it is.”

If Guerra were elected, it would tilt Sacramento’s council younger than it’s been in a long time – maybe ever. Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby just turned 40. Steve Hansen is only 35. Mayor Kevin Johnson is 48.

This is not to disparage Pomer for being 65 and retired.

At 52, I’m closer in age to Pomer than Guerra.

At 68, Larry Carr is a consistently thoughtful voice on the City Council and a solid new addition to Sacramento’s political scene.

There is really nothing negative to say about Pomer, who has run and lost three previous times for a council seat. Former Mayor Heather Fargo and much of Sacramento’s old guard of politics support Pomer.

That’s fine, but the older guard of Sacramento politics has had its turn to lead for decades now.

Vibrant cities also can thrive when new people with different perspectives step forward to assume leadership.

Guerra isn’t beholden to any major interests, and his campaign grew out of the neighborhoods. Because of that background, he could contend he would be a better advocate for voters than Pomer.

So it all comes back to a small and likely older electorate making a choice.

Via his combination of age, ethnicity, experience and personality, Guerra is the kind of promising candidate who is primed to lead and represent everyone.

But will the people vote for him?

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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