By Ken StoneTen years ago, a 19-year-old intern allegedly was propositioned by Tony Mendoza at a California Democratic Party convention — invited to spend the night in an adjoining suite.
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The disgraced Los Angeles County politician was in San Diego for his latest party convention. But so was Zenaida Huerta.
A Claremont McKenna College government and literature student, Huerta helped engineer a stunning thumbs down on Mendoza, who was seeking endorsement for re-election to the 32nd Senate District seat he resigned from only two days earlier.
Huerta, who said she was originally heartbroken over sexual misconduct accusations against the veteran lawmaker, made it possible that “no endorsement” was on the ballot at the district caucus in the San Diego Convention Center.
About 5:30 p.m., caucus overseer Craig Roberts of San Diego Democrats for Equality finished marking votes on an easel pad.
“No endorsement” beat Tony Mendoza 35-10.One of the delegate votes for Mendoza presumably came from nondelegate Mendoza himself, voting as a proxy for Kathleen Reyes.
He wore Reyes’ delegate badge despite party rules that, “in all cases, a DSCC Delegate member should give his/her proxy to a member of the same gender whenever possible.”
Huerta, who posted her critique of Mendoza as a Medium essay, lobbied not to allow him to get the party’s automatic support as an incumbent.
She needed 19 delegates to sign a petition to have “no endorsement” as a choice. She got 20 — although he won 58 percent support in a late January district delegate vote.
“I know the support in our district is still strong [for Mendoza], which is unfortunate,” said Huerta, a Whittier resident who helped get like-minded delegates to San Diego. “The ‘no endorsement’ vote allows voters to see that there are other options out there.”
She said candidates can be right on the issues, “but if they’re bad people, then why should we settle?”
Caucus moderator Roberts gave Mendoza up to two minutes to speak to the room of 150 people. But Mendoza said from his front-row seat, near his wife, Leticia: “Thank you so much for the opportunity.”
But given no other candidates were in the race, he said go ahead and proceed with the count.
Invited to use a standing microphone, he said proceed to the vote so delegates “can get to other elections.”
As the vote was announced, 24-year-old Noemi Tungui — holding a “MeToo” sign — shouted: “Ten [votes] is too many.”
Later, the Oxnard resident told Times of San Diego she was “completely disgusted that Tony Mendoza was up for votes.” She said the party sent the wrong message that someone deemed a “sexual predator” would even be considered for endorsement.“I read his letter of apology, and I didn’t think it was very sincere,” said Tungui, a former congressional intern who called herself an organizer on environmental issues. “Not an apology that these women deserved.”
“Having 10 people vote for him, including some women, it really made me cringe,” she said.
Walking out of the second-floor caucus room, Mendoza said: “I’m happy the delegates came out today, but the real vote is the votes from the district — the actual voters.”
How will he make his case amid accusations of sexual misconduct?
“Like any other election,” said the 46-year-old former mayor. “You go out there, talk to the voters and you let them know what your message is all about, what you’ve done.”
He noted his 20 years of public service in the district, including 10 years as an Artesia councilman and six as a member of the Assembly.
“They know my track record,” he said. “I’ve done things. And that’s the message I’m going to take back to them. I have a proven record.”
Mendoza was asked: Will Toni Atkins as state Senate leader be any friendlier than Kevin de León (who had introduced a resolution to expel Mendoza)?
“I can’t speak [to] that,” Mendoza said.Watching the vote was a candidate for Mendoza’s seat: Vicky Santana, a risk manager in the Los Angeles County Probation Department and member of the Rio Honda Community College Board of Trustees.
“This delegation of the 32nd District has spoken,” Santana said, “and they reflect the community, and I don’t think he’ll have that support.”
(She said her focal issues are education, public safety and health care. “We need a voice in Sacramento that represents our community with integrity, and we have not had that.”)
Later, while greeting delegates in the hallway before they entered a room to vote for statewide offices, U.S. Senate challenger De Leon (hoping to unseat Dianne Feinstein), was asked to comment on the thumbs down on Mendoza.
“It’s a Democratic process,” De Leon said in a dress white shirt, sleeves rolled up. “It’s a sensitive issue right now. I’d rather not comment. The voters will decide.”
Mendoza cast his green ballot in the room, waiting in line along with thousands of others.
Who was he supporting for governor and U.S. senator?
“I don’t have a choice right now,” he said.
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