When I heard that the California Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) had endorsed Eric Garcetti in his bid to replace Antonio Villaraigosa who is terming out as mayor of Los Angeles, I was a bit surprised because there are two women in the race. I talked to the communications director of the chapter — a longtime friend, Lori Vandermeir, letting on that the endorsement surprised me. Lori thought I should interview Patty Bellasalma, the President of the chapter to gain a broader understanding of the mission of NOW. She thought I might be holding old notions. I admitted that I was a member several years ago but had let my membership lapse. Up until the endorsement, I hadn’t given the organization much attention. When I learned that they had chosen to endorse a man over two woman in what some are calling a close race, I welcomed the opportunity to interview it’s president.
In a phone interview with Patty Bellasalma I talked a bit about my perceptions of the organization and how the endorsement had dispelled my belief that NOW would always endorse a female candidate over a male, particularly in a race where the candidates are characterizing themselves as “progressive”. I didn’t get to mention that my assumption was based partly on the 2008 involvement of at least one high profile NOW member bringing Sarah Palin to Carson, CA and then working in support of Palin.
Almost immediately, Bellasalma made it clear that she, as the president of California NOW, had no intention of playing what she characterized as “identity politics”. Said Patty, “Eric is the only candidate that is solidly progressive and focused on the intersection of women’s empowerment.” Clearing up any doubts I had about the organization’s commitment to issues beyond what some call “women’s issues”, Patty talked about NOW being a multi-issue progressive organization. She noted that the majority of the California NOW PAC didn’t struggle with the decision to endorse Garcetti saying, “It really wasn’t a hard decision because the process has been decades long. We have known and worked with Eric for a long time. He’s been involved in environmental justice issues, economic justice issues and has demonstrated a decades long consistency of commitment to these issues.”
Although there are seven candidates in the race, it’s been widely reported that only two have raised enough funds to be competitive. According to Ballotpedia, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel had each raised $4 million as of month end December 2012. Jan Perry, the other woman in the race had raised half of what Garcetti and Gruel raised. None of the other candidates has raised more than $400k.
With the campaign funding profiles in mind, my interview with Patty Bellasalma was limited to the differences between Garcetti and Gruel. When I asked why Wendy Greul was not endorsed Patty simply stated, “for one to do the kind of work that is necessary, one must first unpack her privileged baggage”. Still speaking on the issue of Gruel’s commitment to progressive issues, Patty continued, “It takes work to see where you are in the hierarchy. All of your past work should tell a story about what you support, who you are.” Emphasizing the importance of putting theory to practice and trusting people to make their own decisions as well as being transparent, Bellasalma suggested that she had not seen a history of this with Greul, a woman she has known for 30 years. “It’s bad when your first answer to a problem is to hire a focus group. That’s short term thinking.”, Patty explained as she talked about times when Greul was pressed on an issue near and dear to Bellasalma’s heart, CEDAW implementation by the city of Los Angeles.
CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is an international treaty that commits governments to removing barriers to women’s equality. Also known as the Treaty for the Rights of Women, it addresses legal rights, education, employment,
health care, violence against women, politics and finance. Giving a little history of the implementation, Bellasalma said, “Jackie Goldberg introduced CEDAW in the Los Angeles City Council and Eric Garcetti is fully behind it. But the city has failed to implement it.”
“Eric is committed to CEDAW implementation. The city had considered it but when it came to actual implementation within the city, both the city attorney and the mayor slowed down the legislation.”
“CEDAW implementation is essential because it establishes a requirement that when policy is being considered one of the factors that must be known is the gender effect of the policy. Being able to answer this question allows one to inform the decision makers, gives advocates a window into where changes need to be made.”
“I’ve known Wendy for 30 years. She could have endorsed CEDAW. She could implement CEDAW but when asked why she hasn’t committed to its implementation her answer has been, “We’ll have to do a study to determine it efficacy”. Studies have already been done.”, Patty said.
I asked Bellasalma whether there were members within NOW’s ranks who opposed the backing of a male candidate over a female, Ballasalma admitted that there are a few that hold to the notion that just having a female in office is a move in the right direction but she feels that NOW is beyond that. “We can’t guarantee that just because a candidate is a woman that she’ll support legislation that is in the best interest of women. But Eric has a demonstrated track record that goes way back.”
Patty also mentioned that Garcetti is a member of NOW naming a list of organizations including Black Women for Wellness that Eric has been behind. She stressed that she has known both candidates for many years and that NOW had made the right decision.
The election for the Los Angeles mayoral race will be held on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.