Former California politician Gloria Molina died of cancer on Sunday at age 74. She served on the LA County Board of Supervisors for 23 years, representing communities from East LA to parts of the San Gabriel Valley, and served in the State Assembly and on the LA City Council. The Montebello native was the first Latina in all three positions. She fought for the space that became Grand Park, which stretches from Disney Concert Hall to City Hall. It will soon be renamed in her honor.
KCRW looks back at her legacy with former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The two met when Villaraigosa worked with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as an investigator. He was friends with Ron Martinez, who later became Molina’s husband. The two were at an event when they saw Molina in the crowd.
“He pointed to her and he said, ‘I want to date her.’ And a few months later, they not only dated but they got married,” recalls Villaraigosa, who served as best man at their wedding.
“The big joke that day is that [Ron] was late to his own wedding. And Gloria and her chief of staff … and all the really strong women around her … [were] all screaming at me to get him to get there as quickly as possible. That was my first introduction to how tough Gloria Molina could be.”
Her political career included community activism at Rio Hondo College. She also served as chair of East LA’s Comisión Femeníl Mexicana Nacional, where she fought for women’s reproductive rights, including advocating against forced sterilizations.
Then in 1982, she ran for the 56th district of the California State Assembly. In 1987, she served on the LA City Council and later onn the LA County Board of Supervisors.
“She was tough about this notion that the east side needs to get its fair share, that women need to be included. It wasn't just about Latinos. She was very much a feminist who believed that women's voices needed to be heard.”
Villaraigosa points out that she was particularly skilled at working with constituents.
“She made it clear that constituent work is so important. So if you're a State Assembly member, and someone brought an issue from the city or the county or the federal government, you always follow that case. You didn't send it to the city, county, state, or federal government. You kept the case and you stayed on top of it. And when it was resolved, you took it back to the constituent, and that was a powerful thing.”
He adds, “You have to answer those letters. I learned that from her. Before me, they mostly sent it to the council member if it was a city thing. I didn't do that. And I learned that from her.”