The race for Sacramento’s District 8 race will be contested with two candidates who say they want similar things for the district’s south area neighborhoods of Meadowview, Parkway and parts of Valley Hi and Laguna.
Les Simmons and Mai Vang, two long-time South Sacramento organizers are looking to fill a vacant seat left by two-term councilmember Larry Carr, who had represented the district since 2014.
Vang currently sits on the Sacramento City Unified School Board, and helped found Hmong Innovating Politics, a group focused on voter engagement within the Hmong community. If elected, she would be the first Asian American woman to serve on Sacramento City Council.
Simmons is a pastor for the South Sacramento Christian Center. He’s also been involved in a number of initiatives at City Hall, like the Black Child Legacy Campaign, Sacramento Area Churches Together and he previously sat on the city’s advisory committee that helped determine distribution of theMeasure U tax funds.
Residents of these South Sacramento neighborhoods —- particularly Meadowview, where CapRadio held a virtual conversation to hear questions residents had for candidates — say they want to see a focus on issues relating to public safety, police accountability and giving back to the community. Many also mentioned wanting a councilmember who could help to uplift the district’s image.
Here’s where they stand on a few issues:
These interviews were edited for clarity.
Why are you qualified to be the councilmember representing District 8?
Vang: Growing up in poverty, I saw first-hand how access to wealth determined a person’s quality of life, and I’m running for Sacramento City Council to make sure we have someone at City Hall fighting for our families and communities.
Simmons: I grew up here, I have memories of the old Cal skating rink and using that as our community hub, and that’s something I'm very passionate about. I’m running for Sacramento City Council to really ensure that economic equity and opportunity continues to thrive even in these challenging times.
What do you see as some of the biggest issues facing District 8 neighborhoods right now?
Vang: Some of the neighborhoods in District 8 have some of the highest concentration of poverty in the district. And I want to make sure that I focus my efforts to ensure that these neighborhoods receive the bulk of investment opportunities.
One of my goals as councilwoman is really, how do we uplift families and lift them from poverty? Oftentimes when folks come into the city and they want to invest, what they do is they draw a circle around a neighborhood and they look at the disposable income. And about 33% or so of our families, our households make less than $35,000 a year. And so how do we increase disposable income? How do we get our families out of poverty? How do you uplift families from poverty so that you're not just, you know, providing services and a one-time kind Band-Aid?
Simmons: District 8 has faced both economic challenges, lack of investment challenges when it comes to business economics. When it comes to safe space, safe communities, they face a lot of challenges around housing, access to affordable housing. There are a lot of challenges around even our education system.
I’ve been working for the last 20 years to address these challenges, whether it was the work more recently done through COVID, or whether it was the work done around police brutality and the shooting of Stephon Clark.
Another thing that has to happen: Programs that uplift our youth, bring them both to the forefront of addressing the challenges in leadership roles, as well as creating what we call community support mechanisms through supporting community based organizations that really empower them to be the leaders that they are.
What are some examples of initiatives you’d like to lead if elected to city council?
Simmons: I think we have to have a pipeline to support both those that are looking for employment, especially right now because of COVID, unemployment is high. We need to create pipelines for jobs and trades and individuals to learn to get a high paying quality job. I think we have to support programs like that and create programs like that. I'm currently working with the group that is really building a kind of a network to help support individuals to say, “I want to learn a trade and turn it into a good paying job and then in turn buy a house and live in my community.” I think we have to continue to do that.
Over the last couple of years, we've seen youth homicides drop to zero in Sacramento County for two years straight. I was a big part of that strategy to create a violence interruption plan and continue to be a big part of that strategy. I think we need to continue to support community-based public safety efforts that are intervening in tough situations and what we call “doing violence interruption” work. The pandemic has definitely shone a light and caused a certain level of violence our in our community.
And I think those that are working in these spaces need a commitment from their elected officials that they have the support to do the work of violence interruption in our community and supporting our young folks that are in our communities as well.
Vang: Sacramento, as you know, we pride ourselves as the Farm-to-Fork kind of capital. But I always share with families and communities that oftentimes we have residents that don't have forks. So we can talk about the Farm-to-Fork movement, but if our families are struggling, if we have food deserts, then this is an injustice. For me in particular, I think District 8 is well-positioned actually to lead this movement: To be the heart of the Farm-to-Fork movement with so many talented and skillful farmers from the Black community, from the Hmong community. I think we are well-positioned.
Meadowview resident Dana wants to ask the candidates, how could you be more hands-on in the community, or how would you plan to continue to be hands-on in the community once elected?
Vang: I've been an organizer for a really long time making sure that we create the kind of infrastructure to get folks engaged in the political process. And then I've also worked at city hall for four years [as Councilmember Larry Carr’s Community Affairs Director]. You know, those neighborhood cleanups, you know a lot about a neighborhood when you are out there actually picking up trash. Organizing community events, concerts in the parks, addressing because the joins every day. I did that for three years. Got all the calls to the council office handling them. I've done a lot in this community, but there's still so much more work to be done.
As a community organizer, I think that there are other innovative ways to, you know, bring community voices to the table, not just at city hall. There are other things that I want to do as a councilwoman in terms of engagement.
We have our council meetings on Tuesday. I think it's great that, you know, there's a virtual setting now, so folks can actually tune in and engage and participate. But you know, what if that day and time doesn't work for my constituents? I have other ideas of actually engaging on items on the agenda before it comes to a vote.
Simmons: If elected, right now I actually currently am on multiple boards and policy positions that I serve on whether it is through the work of violence interruption through what we call Healing the Hood, whether it was through the Mack Road Business District and really putting a focus on uplifting the business corridor in the Mack Road area or whether it was through Sacramento ACT area congregations.
I’ve had the ability to put myself on the line for my values, for our community. City Council, I have every desire to be the same leader that our community has trusted and supported. But now on City Council seat to move our shared values, our shared ideas forward in a way that's felt forward in a way that people feel they're heard, listened to and these shared ideas are moved upon to create a better space for us.
What about police accountability and policing in these neighborhoods, how do you plan to improve that?
Vang: I think one thing is that, you know, our front line is our police commission, and oftentimes they're not taken seriously or folks say they don't have teeth on the commission. There have been recommendations made and they've been just sitting on the shelf. So as councilwoman, I think the first thing is actually to go through the recommendations. If there are any low-hanging fruit, we have to be able to do that. There's conversations also around the diversity of our departments. Making sure that folks who actually work in these departments actually live in our city. But the other piece is also, you know, building trust. There's absolutely that mistrust between community and law enforcement.
But I will also say, when we think about public safety, I think folks tend to think that is only law enforcement. Public safety is so much more than that. It's clean and safe neighborhoods. It's access or resource and opportunities. And so the mind shifts are thinking about public safety needs to change.
I think for me, it's also looking at how our budget reflects our values. And that is something that I will be taking very seriously when I get to City Hall.
Simmons: I think we definitely have some work in front of us to improve the relationship between community and police. I have a strong history of doing that. Whether it was through the police commission, whether it was through my work before the police commission and developing a program called Cops and Clergy, or whether it was through a program I was doing before that called Ceasefire.
This really put the community and police in the same space. At one point I went on dozens of ride-alongs to really understand what law enforcement was going through, but to also give them a perspective of what community was going through. I spent some time teaching in cultural context to new law enforcement officer, and I heard a law enforcement officer say, “We need to rethink how we're doing some of our public safety work.” They don't necessarily want to be called to go and respond to a mental health crisis within our community. They don't necessarily want to be called to go and to a person in the transit or homeless community, respond to the issues around that. We have the ability to reimagine some things differently. And I think that's what I bring, the set of experience, a set of commitments to walking this out and actually a drive to actually making sure it happens.
Meadowview resident Jeff asked, “If you don’t win, how are you going to support the winner of this election?”
Vang: I've been sharing with voters, with residents, with my family that, win or lose, I'm still gonna be here. I live in Meadowview. I grew up here. I'm still gonna be doing the work. And, you know, if my opponent does win, I want to see him be successful, so I am throwing my support behind him 110%. But, you know, right now in this campaign, we feel confident. We've been hustling and working incredibly hard to get the word out about our campaign. And so we're hoping election night that, you know, that we'll be sending the people to city hall.
Simmons: In order to move our community forward, in order to both move forward through the pandemic. And then after that, economic development, after that youth services, creating jobs, it is going to take a shared partnership that we have to work together. Anytime you have a set of challenges that we all agree on, then you have a commitment to addressing these challenges, you get to share in the implementation of addressing these challenges. My commitment has always been there working with the previous councilmember and working with the councilmember before them. And I'll have that commitment whether I'm elected or not. I have a youth center, a community center, a food distribution center, a mass distribution center, a church. I'm on multiple commissions and boards. My commitment has never been as strong as it is even now, to address these challenges and whether I'm effective or not, I have stake in the game and I want to see our community for the potential it could be.
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