Mar Vista and Culver City need a new state rep, and everything’s coming up Kamlager

By Gary Walker

Sydney Kamlager is a shoo-in to replace Sebastian Ridley-Thomas in the state Assembly

The Westside’s first ballot contest of 2018 is already upon us, with an April 3 special election calling on voters in Mar Vista, Culver City and parts of West L.A. and South L.A. to choose a new state Assembly member on April 3 — whether many are aware of it or not.

There is, however, a clear frontrunner to replace Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who stepped down in January due to unspecified health concerns.

Sydney Kamlager, president of Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, is the Democratic establishment favorite in the heavily Democratic district. She’s locked away the endorsements of the California Democratic Party, United Teachers Los Angeles, the California League of Conservation Voters and a who’s who of Democratic officeholders including Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Karen Bass, state Sens. Ben Allen and Holly Mitchell, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and several council members in L.A. and Culver City.

She has three opponents. Democrat Tepring Michelle Piqando, a scientist with the Rand Corporation, has a similarly progressive platform and several Democratic state Assembly members in her corner. Grayson Pangilinan, a comparatively young Mar Vista green technology entrepreneur, is also running as a progressive Democrat. Small business owner Glen Ratcliff, the lone Republican candidate, also ran against Ridley-Thomas in 2014 and 2016.

But Kamlager has far outpaced her opponents in campaign fundraising, having raised $270,000 to nearest competitor Piqando’s $13,000.

In a recent interview, Kamlager said she’s honored by all the support and believes her experience on the community college board and as a staffer for Mitchell is what gives her an edge.

“As a local lawmaker, we have to find solutions. That’s a skill and I think that it will serve me well in Sacramento,” she said. “I want to lend my voice to the chorus of progressive voices who are fighting on behalf of the great state of California.”

After graduating from the University of Southern California, Kamlager began her professional career at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice. Under the tutelage of SPARC founder and Artistic Director Judy Baca, Kamlager supervised the restoration of the Venice Graffiti Pit.

“It was a great learning ground for me to learn about organizing and public art, and who better to be your mentor than Judy Baca?” said Kamlager, who worked at SPARC from 1996 to 1999.

A mother of two young children, she says housing and education are cornerstones of her campaign.

“I do think there’s a convergence of a number of issues. We’re still grappling with our homeless crisis, and a lot of them are families with young children,” said Kamlager.

She favors state government support for living wage jobs, cost of living increases and using urban planning to accomplish employment and housing goals, but acknowledges that where new housing is built and how homeless services are deployed are “a very complicated issue that touches very emotional triggers.”

Kamlager frequently uses the word equity when discussing education.

“At one time we were the Golden State in education. We really have an obligation to restore that luster,” she said. “We have an economy that is dependent upon creative, stimulated graduates.”

Asked about charter schools — the source of most divisions surrounding local education — she expressed a willingness to re-evaluate Proposition 39, the voter-approved law that allows charter schools to petition school districts for surplus classroom space.

“Charters are here to stay. The intent was to have innovative, creative education innovators, and there is a place for that. But now we’ve moved to a place where we have to talk about accountability, equity and transparency.”

As Election Day approaches, Kamlager said she’s campaigning as though she were the underdog.

“I believe in this district. I’m excited. But I’m taking nothing for granted,” she said.