First Latino councilman in Compton embraces challenge

COMPTON — Three days after being elected the first Latino council member in Compton’s history, 26-year-old Isaac Galvan called a unity meeting at Raspados Los Portales, a tiny restaurant in his district.

The twenty-some Latinos who showed, a commingling of Galvan’s supporters and doubters, listened on as the District 2 councilman-elect in a dress shirt and shoes said: “I called you to be here because I’m the new councilman and I need your guys’ help. Being the first Latino and being young, I have two targets on my back.”

“Everyone is waiting for me to mess up,” he continued. “I’m young but smart enough to know that I can’t do it myself and I don’t have all the answers.”

Before the primary election results showed Galvan was the top vote getter going into the run-off on June 4, no one in the room imagined that the owner of a print shop in West Los Angeles would be the first Latino to win a seat.

They had never seen Galvan at a City Council meeting. He was not around in 2010, when three Latino voters sued the city alleging that its at-large election system violated the California Voting Rights Act. He did not walk precincts with the Committee “Yes on Measure B” a year ago or join the celebration when it passed and elections switched to by-district, boosting his chance to win.

Galvan admits to being a newcomer who didn’t run for office with a love for politics. He said wanted to make a difference in his community and it just so happened that an election was coming up, so he threw his name in there. He doesn’t take his victory like a know-it-all, but isn’t planning to be anyone’s puppet either.

“It doesn’t take a brain scientist to know what’s right and wrong and what’s going on in City Hall that’s wrong. There’s potholes in every street, trees don’t get cut, the highest water rates in California, outrageous salaries in commissions,” Galvan said. “I may be a rookie politician but I was raised with morals so I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I’m going to do the right thing.”

Galvan, his older brother and sister and two younger brothers were raised in Compton by their widowed mother. He graduated from Lynwood High School, then attended a Christian school in Connecticut for 6 months and won a certificate in religion. Galvan returned to Santa Monica College and earned his associate degree in business in 2008.

At age 20, he opened Galvan Printing on Jefferson Avenue and says he still loves the trade because it allows him to help struggling businesses market themselves and raise their sales.

Leading up to the April primaries, he even printed campaign literature for District 3 candidate and Committee “Yes on Measure B” president Diana Sanchez, who lost the race to incumbent Yvonne Arceneaux. Sanchez, the longtime figurehead of Measure B and candidate Latinos pushed for a council seat, has not given public support to Galvan.

The new “poster child for Measure B,” as Jose Serrato, a Compton activist since the 1960s calls him, accepts that he doesn’t have the support of all vocal Latinos moving forward.

“I printed some stuff for Diana Sanchez. It is what it is, I don’t regret doing it, I mean I wanted to help her out,” Galvan said. “It’s kind of sad she didn’t want to help me out and return the favor.”

While some community members distance themselves from Galvan, others are not shy to attack him.

Joyce Kelly, a Compton activist for almost a decade, brought up rumors that Galvan was associated with the Mexican mafia and does not live in the city, and accused him of buying food and toys for Latinos so they would vote for him.

“He has no experience with anything. He’s not even old enough to have worked a job any length of time and no one knows nothing about him,” she said. “He’s only going in there as a stepping stone and also to be used by people in higher political positions of power.”

Galvan, who won endorsements from politicians including County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, state Senator Gil Cedillo, Water Replenish District president Albert Robles and Compton councilwomen Janna Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux, denied his critics’ words.

“I never heard that one,” he said in regards to the Mexican mafia. “At the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to racism and a lot of it comes down to jealousy. I’m not going to feed into that. I won fair and square. My consultant Angel Gonzalez did a great job laying out a plan. We spoke to the issues that affect the residents; this was not against Dobson.”

An open door policy and his push for change appeal to residents regardless of their race.

Lynn Boone, a Compton resident all her life who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, agreed with some of Galvan’s objectives from a candidates debate but pointed out that it takes more than one person to change things on council like salary cuts.

“I don’t look at him as Latino, I look at him as a person just like everybody else. What I do kind of question is his lack of experience but we’ve had (council members) up there who show no experience,” Boone said. “I want to give him credit for actually participating in the election and winning it and I look forward to working with him because I just want betterment for the city.”

Galvan listened patiently at his Latino unity meeting. The third generation son of immigrants from Mexico doesn’t speak Spanish but understands it.

When the conversation veered toward a complain session on city issues, Serrato led a “Si se puede” (“Yes we can”) chant and Galvan’s campaign manager Tomas Carlos changed it to “Si se pudo” (“Yes we did it”).

Carlos, 44, former campaign manager for Sanchez, told The Compton Herald that Galvan’s willingness to learn and the people supporting him will make him strong.

“I’m trying not to get emotional about it because I believe in the cause. Isaac is the birthing of Measure B,” Carlos said. “I see a young Timothy from the Bible who wanted to do right and what he did was seek wisdom from the apostles.”

Galvan closed the meeting by announcing that he will be sworn in on July 1 and take his seat at the council meeting the next day. He asked for a group photo and for everyone to spread the word on his victory celebration at the City Banquet Hall on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The last week for Galvan has been filled with more precinct walking to thank voters in his district. He said he’s still physically, emotionally and mentally drained after being kicked in the shin on election night and getting knocks on the door at odd hours of the night from people wondering where he lives.

With the real work just about to begin, Galvan plans to find balance in things he’s used to – running his print shop, serving as a youth pastor at Victory Outreach church.

“I might not be the Latino they wanted to get elected but at the end of the day I am the first Latino and wear it with a badge of honor and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have gotten elected,” he said. “We all live together, breathe the same air, pay the same high water bill and property taxes and we’re going to work together to improve that.”

Published in The Compton Herald newspaper and