By Pablo De Sainz
“I have an eight year old daughter who wants to be bilingual and I don’t want to stay behind either,” he said.
But more than a want, for Padilla learning Spanish is a need, because since January he became the new mayor of Chula Vista, a city where, according to Census 2000 figures, 49.6 per cent of the population is Hispanic.
“We have a rich Latino heritage in our community,” he said.
That Padilla is the mayor of Chula Vista is a historical step: he became the first Hispanic mayor of that city. But this isn’t the first time he’s changing the scenario in Chula Vista, since he also was elected the first Hispanic council member in 1994.
Son of a Mexican father and a Portuguese mother, Padilla, 36, has lived in Chula Vista all of his life.
Now that he’s mayor, he said that he and the city council have many plans for the city. The most important one, Padilla said, is to maintain the good image of Chula Vista.
“We want to continue being an example for the rest of the region,” he said.
The development of the city is of vital importance for the mayor, that’s why his goals for his period are to attract more business investment. That’ll create more better paid jobs for residents, Padilla said. Another priority will be to keep historical sites in good condition.
Padilla won the November 2002 elections, after a controversial campaign against the other candidate, council member Mary Salas. The two candidates were involved in a series of verbal and written attacks, where each of them tried to expose the negative side of the other.
But Padilla said that ever since he assumed the position as mayor, there haven’t been any problems between him and Salas. Their professional relationship has remained in good shape, he said.
“She (Salas) has been very professional,” Padilla said. “She’s very valuable as a council member. We’re working together to do a good job.”
Part of that job, Padilla said, is to expand Chula Vista’s international relations with the neighboring state of Baja California. Another goal Padilla has during his term is to work with Baja California officials.
“We’ll work to reach the next step with Baja California representatives. We’ll participate more to have more bi-national cooperation.”
And since many of Chula Vista residents have relatives in the city of Tijuana, Padilla said that that city will be of special interest to the city council. The mayor also said that soon he’ll be meeting with his colleague in Tijuana, Mayor Jesús González.
“Soon I’ll meet with the mayor of Tijuana to share points of view,” Padilla said.
That’s the reason that, in order to reach many of his goals as mayor, Padilla needs to learn Spanish. And although he still can’t maintain a conversation in Spanish, the mayor said he’s doing his best.
“I’m learning,” he said in Spanish. “That’s one of my goals.”
Maybe before his term ends, Padilla will surprise Chula Vista residents with his first speech in Spanish.