October 13, 2006

A Little Money and an Impressive Can-Do Attitude:

Alejandra Sotelo Solis and her campaign for National City Mayor

By Raymond R. Beltran

National City resident Alejandra Sotelo Solis just retired her position as district director for Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. She did it to interview for 2,000 more jobs, she says. That’s the number of neighborhood doors she has lined up to visit this month.

National City Mayoral Candidate Alejandra Sotelo Solis (center) jots down a few community needs from local resident Alejandro Tocayo (right) on Lanoitan Avenue. Photo by R. Beltran.

Solis is vying for National City Mayor in the November 7 elections as Nick Inzunza finishes his last few months, vowing an eternal exodus from politics. So actually, she’s applying for 55,000 jobs, an estimated number of residents National City houses.

Running against more prominent names like Pearl Quiñones and current Councilman Ron Morrison, she’s using a web of avenues to outreach in the neighborhood (emails, MySpace websites, phone banks, and leafleting) with only $8,800 keeping her campaign afloat, but as a community activist, she’s more apt to knock on doors.

Though she speaks about establishing an ethics commission and creating safe streets, an open ear and her familial roots planted in National City’s west side seem to be the backbone of her platform, which is more than enough for those who are on her route.

Alejandro Tocayo, a concrete pourer who shares Lanoitan Avenue with Lincoln Acres Elementary School, tells Solis that his street needs speed bumps as they witness a car fly past a stop sign hidden behind a bushel of overgrown trees. He says she’s the first candidate who has stepped foot on his block to ask questions, ever.

She takes with her a pen and pad, some campaign fliers, and an impressive, non-profit-style ‘can do’ attitude as she writes down suggestions: speed bumps, trees cut, repainting address numbers on the sidewalk, parks and recreation repairs, and a more communicative government.

Solis knows all of the above by now. It’s the nature of her platform.

“Having grown up on the west side, you really see what programs need to be implemented,” she says. “When you know your neighbors, you know what’s familiar and what isn’t.”

Though many are taken aback by her age, 27, this UCSD political science grad remains confident in highlighting herself as a member of committees like the Affordable Housing Task Force and National City Police Explorer.

As a community advocate, she takes part in groups like STAR/PAL (Sports, Training, Academics and Recreational Police Athletic League), a group that fosters disadvantaged youth with athletic camps and activities. Some even meet with San Diego Charger players. She’s also a member of St. Anthony’s Organizing Ministry, a Catholic community group in Old Town that’s been successful in creating the city’s asthma committee and initiating an amortization ordinance that passed unanimously this August.

“I say we are running for mayor, because I would not be the person I am today if I was not engaged or willing to listen,” she says while sipping coffee at Chicano Perk Café, a business that’s endorsing her.

Though she prides herself on being a product of National City, having graduated from Sweetwater High School, Solis may be facing issues that have jarred even the most established residents in town.

A racist, anti-immigration group, The Minutemen, recently held rallies to oppose Mayor Inzunza’s ‘sanctuary city’ announcement, making National City a harassment-free zone for immigrants. Last Sunday marked the first day of the 8.75 percent sales tax hike for the city’s shoppers, and City Manager Chris Zapata is engaging the San Diego Chargers in talks of planting a stadium in the port district, an industrial area that already employs 30,000 workers who are in opposition.

Solis’s take on the issue of a sanctuary city and the Minutemen rallies: “It’s about human rights, human dignity,” she says. “It’s already on the books (no funding for immigration enforcement). It’s about public safety, and people have freedom of speech ... My question is, how much did all of this cost the city?” $37,000.

About the sales tax increase that spans a decade, she was in favor. “I believe in this ten years, we need to find a revenue source that is not a one time band aid, but one that’s sustainable. We’re not incapable, but we have to look to our neighbors to the north and south and see how they’re doing it.”

She’s a fan of the Chargers, hence, in favor of a stadium, but is it possible? Probably not, but likeminded with City Manager Chris Zapata, she says proposals, though a hefty penny for a city in a $6 million deficit, put National City on the map as a possibility for other projects and opportunities in the future.

Beginning January, Mayor Inzunza will be leaving behind a seat and city dominated by males. Prior to Inunza, George Waters led the council since 1970, and before him, there was longtime Mayor Kile Morgan, all of which have culminated the city into a community, mostly Latino families (currently 60 percent), with an estimated median income of $30,000.

Her opponents are the City Clerk Mike Dalla, Activist Darryl Gorham, City Councilman Ron Morrison, and Sweetwater Union High School Board Member Pearl Quiñones.

As a member of various groups in the community, Solis’s door to door approaches, at times, sound more like a community recruitment campaign to bridge the gap between the residents and local government instead of a race for mayor.

She says one time she encountered a seventeen year old young man, who lives three blocks from city hall and didn’t know the role of a mayor. She talked to him about the campaign, an endeavor that ultimately turned out to be a short tutoring session on local government.

She says that “when she becomes mayor,” her introductory plans would be to initiate a community controlled ethics commission that would bridge that gap between working residents and their elected officials.

“People that have lived here can say I want to live here and I can afford to stay here,” she says. “Really, I believe that when government touches somebody, they really get to see why it matters.”

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