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Column: Gloria Molina’s farewell message to L.A.: Don’t be corrupt


Looking around Gloria Molina’s home, you wouldn’t know that she was one of the most important politicians in Los Angeles history.

the outside is aunt chic: purple hearts on the teal front door, baby angel statues near the pool, flower pots all over the front yard.

A giant glass cabinet filled with quilts that Molina has, well, quilted, takes up most of one wall in her tiny living room. A black-and-white photo of a 1991 swearing-in ceremony, when she made history by becoming the first Latina on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, gets lost in a sea of ​​family portraits and Chicano art.

What caught my eye when I walked by recently was a painting of Molina and her daughter Valentina leaning on the ground.

“It was from one of those positions there at Self-Help (Graphics),” Molina said when I asked about it. “It was done in 10 minutes.”

“That’s very accurate!” responded her longtime chief of staff, Alma Martinez, who reclined on a couch while Molina sat in a wheelchair, a lock of purple-dyed hair peeking out of a flapper-style chemotherapy cap.

Molina continued: “And Valentina says: ‘Man, we are ugly.'”

Valentina rolled her eyes. Martinez’s jaw dropped. I laughed. Molina did not miss a beat.

“I said, ‘I think we’re real.'”

Molina, 74, has been in court here in Mt. Washington with some of the most powerful people in the city since announcing a week and a half ago that she was dying of cancer.

Mayor Karen Bass called. The former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the former president of the State Assembly Fabián Núñez passed by. So did current supervisor Kathryn Barger. Zev Yaroslavsky, who served with Molina on the City Council and Board of Supervisors for nearly a quarter century, gave him a bottle of kosher vodka. Lifelong friends travel from across the country to spend one last afternoon with her.

“First of all, they apologized for not knowing, and I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to do that,’” Molina said, when I asked what her visitors wanted to talk about. “I’m pretty happy (with) where I am and what I did. And you know, that part is over. And then I thanked them for what our relationship was.”

Even former rivals have paid their respects, including Lou Moret, a member of the Eastside machine who long clashed with Molina because she kept running against and beating his favorite candidates.

“He has always told me that I have been independent and strong, and that no one else could have done it but me,” Molina said. “And now, of course, he says, ‘It’s a good thing (that you ran). You served with the kind of dignity we needed. And he was no longer intimidated by anything I said or did.”

Molina accepted my interview request after I wrote a column praising her as badass – a rude woman. She had half an hour for our talk, with a difficult way out: every time her little grandson, Santiago, appeared.

The Molina I spoke to is the Molina you remember: fighter, indomitable, fun. His voice and spirit remain strong. His memory is impeccable. Boy, did he even take a swing at our coverage, as he has at any Times reporter within sight of him for the past quarter century.

Gloria Molina, in an undated photo, says she finds the corruption in Los Angeles politics disappointing, but what gives her hope would be “bringing more women into the process,” she says.

(Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

I told Molina I knew the details of her career: first Latina in the state Legislature, Los Angeles City Council and Board of Supervisors, fierce advocate for her constituents, champion of women in politics. There was one thing she still didn’t understand: why?

“Because I had to,” she answered clearly. “If you were a Chicana in the Chicano movement, things had to change. And the boys were still very sexist. So, frankly, we had to push and shove.”

She spoke about how, whether she was a student activist in the late 1960s and 1970s, a legislative aide in Sacramento, or working for the Carter administration in Washington, DC, men kept dismissing her and other women’s contributions.

“We did everything from mimeographing to walking door to door,” Molina said. “So I thought he would be respected, and unfortunately he wasn’t. Boys don’t go looking for a woman (to get into politics). And that’s okay, because women are looking for women.”

I mentioned his first campaign, a 1982 run for Assembly in which he challenged two Assemblymen from the East: his former boss, Art Torres, and his ally, Richard Alatorre. He ran against the chosen candidate, Richard Polanco, and won.

One of the first people he approached was Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who was also an Assembly member at the time and had worked alongside Molina throughout the 1970s in his effort to push more women of color. Waters gave Molina its first large gift of $5,000.

“And she said, ‘You have to be sure, it’s going to be tough,’” Molina said. “And he was sure. I had to open the door. That was my responsibility. That was my duty.”

So what does she think about Los Angeles politics right now?

“Ugh,” she said.

Ugh, actually.

His fellow former supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is awaiting the jury’s verdict in a corruption trial. Former councilman José Huizar, whom Molina ran unsuccessfully against in 2015, pleaded guilty to bribery in January. The City Council is still dealing with the aftermath of a leaked tape in which some of the most powerful politicians in Los Angeles made all kinds of nasty and racist comments against just about everyone.

“Frankly, I’m still disappointed in the corruption,” Molina continued. “I am still disappointed in the lobbyists. I am still disappointed in politicians. It’s not that hard to say no, but I’m a good example of someone who said no.”

Why do you think more politicians don’t say no?

“Because! They get money!” Molina snapped. “Election time: Call a couple of people and you’ll get your budget!”

Los Angeles politics reminded her of how her grandmother described politics in Mexico.

“I could hardly wait for the elections, because I would get a bag of beans and a bag of rice. And I said: ‘But granny, you shouldn’t take it. And she says, ‘Why not? Everybody takes it.

“So when I walked around, I found the same thing,” Molina continued, now referencing his campaign against Huizar. “’Oh, he gives our seniors a TV every year so we can raffle it off and earn some money. Oh, he gives us this every year. … Ooh millet gave him a job (He gave my son a job)’”.

He could easily have been referring to Huizar’s successor, Kevin de León, who continues to post videos of himself on Instagram handing out gifts to voters. He was one of the people who spoke out about the leak of the City Hall tape and has ignored calls to resign.

“So it’s hard to fight those kinds of things,” Molina concluded. “Corruption works, unfortunately.”

Is there anything that gives you hope politically?

“I would certainly like to have more women in the process,” she replied. “There is something about women. They are a little more honest. … But there are no easy solutions. Everyone has to roll up their sleeves.”

What about the new generation of Latino politicians, like city council members Eunisses Hernández and Hugo Soto-Martínez, who are pushing the same populist policies Molina championed for so long, albeit with a more progressive slant?

“Great,” she replied. “But if they’re going to be the same as always, who needs them?”

Martinez gave him a sip of water.

“So I would like to challenge you to be more ethical,” Molina continued. “I would like to challenge you to care more about what is happening in the community. They tell us things that are not true, and there is so much power available that they should harness it and challenge it.”

I asked her how she felt about a political world where Los Angeles County supervisors are all women and Latinas represent the East as a supervisor (Hilda Solis), an assemblywoman (Wendy Carrillo) and a state senator (María Elena Durazo).

“Incredible women follow me,” Molina said. “Some of them are not my first choice, but at the same time they are powerful. And hopefully, they’ll get the message that they can do things and they don’t have to take what the lobbyists say, and they don’t have to take what the guys say, but move on.”

Gloria Molina shakes hands with another woman.

Then-supervisor Gloria Molina shakes hands with supporters in 1999. Asked if she thinks she has made a difference, the former politician replied: “Oh, I think so. And I don’t want to bow to that, that’s not necessary.”

(Los Angeles Times)

I could tell that Molina was tired, so I ended up asking her if she had made a difference.

“Oh, I think so,” he said. “And I don’t want to bow to that, that’s not necessary.”

“Wait,” Martinez interrupted. “What about your family?”

Molina smiled. “I’m not lucky?” She was excited about her grandson, then she looked at Valentina, who is expecting a girl. “I am very proud of my daughter. Thank you, darling.”

“Yes,” Valentina said quietly.

“I am one of the luckiest women out there,” Molina continued. “Even with this cancer, it’s kind of an opportunity. It was kind of, I don’t know, planned that she could talk to people. … It’s amazing, right?

“A lot of what people tell me, Gloria, is that you have brought grace to the end of life,” Martínez told her.


“Yes. That you were able to just give dignity to something that is very difficult for people.”


“You were many first in everything, even until the end.”

Suddenly the front door creaked open and a screaming child entered. mine!” Molina said. “Say hello!”

Valentina placed Santiago on Molina’s lap, but he got fussy.

why are you going to cry?” Molina chided, as only a grandmother can. Why are you going to cry? I had flashbacks of la Molina whose rebukes of political incompetences made her feared and hated. She then repeated herself, this time in a softer tone.

“It takes a while for him to warm up,” Molina said apologetically. “He has had to be around a lot of people. A lot of strangers, lately.

She hopes to make a final quilt for Valentina, filled with Frida Kahlo quotes. She is recording messages for Santiago and his future sister. She was taking painting classes, but her hands start to get weak.

Molina asked me if I had any children of my own. No.

“They are very beautiful. And they are so wonderful.”

She paused.

“We are going to have another. Hopefully, I’ll be here for it.”

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