By Ken Stone
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy was 5 years old, living in the Bronx, when Dianne Feinstein joined the U.S. Senate in 1992.
Now 30, Rodriguez-Kennedy was among the 54 percent of Democrats who voted to endorse Feinstein’s rival — state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León — at the party’s state convention over the weekend.
His vote at the San Diego event may have been more equal than others, however.
On Sunday, Rodriguez-Kennedy was elected president of California Young Democrats, ages 14 to 35 and including some of the most politically active teens and collegians in the state.His club endorsed de León — who represents the 24th District including East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and Civic Center — a sign that the 84-year-old San Franciscan isn’t a lock to win her sixth term in Washington despite polling that suggests she remains well ahead with the rank-and-file.
Rodriguez-Kennedy said he backs de León, 51, because it’s time for a “change of the guard in the U.S. Senate.”
He hailed Feinstein as a warrior on various causes, “but the reality is that the senator is out of step with the California Democratic Party of today. California Democrats embrace single-payer health care, she does not.”
He said California Democrats are at the forefront of the resistance to Trump, while Feinstein has been in some cases “less than impressive.”
“Meanwhile … de León has led the California resistance to Trump enacting laws on Sanctuary State, Dreamer protection, and taking bold steps towards universal health care,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said Tuesday.“Also, Sen. Feinstein simply has not engaged Democratic delegates as effectively as KDL has. He has personally called me, he met with me and we have run into each other at events up and down the state. He is doing the work and it shows in the delegate count.”
Democratic candidates for governor still have a shot with the young party members, however.
“The California Young Democrats did not reach a consensus on the governor’s race,” its new president told Times of San Diego “In our last vote in Tahoe, Gavin [Newsom] led with a plurality followed closely by John Chiang and then Delaine Easton. Antonio Villaraigosa was a distant fourth.”
But Rodriguez-Kennedy — who also serves as president of San Diego Democrats for Equality, an LGBT group — says he personally supports Lt. Gov. Newsom.
“He has led boldly on LGBTQ+ issues,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “He has actively engaged delegates, and his campaign platform is unabashedly progressive.”
A gay Marine veteran who in 2008 fought his discharge under the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Rodriguez-Kennedy said Sunday’s vote is the first time since 1993 that a San Diegan has been elected leader of the Young Democrats.
“As far as we can tell, I am either the first veteran ever or the first veteran in recent memory to serve a president of the California Young Democrats,” he added.
“San Diego’s Democrats are becoming more powerful in our Democratic Party with state Sen. Toni Atkins being elected Senate President pro tempore, Todd Gloria being appointed Assembly majority whip and with my election as president of the California Democratic Party’s youth arm.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy was interviewed by email.
TIMES OF SAN DIEGO: Will CYD responsibilities take precedence over San Diego Democrats for Equality? How will you balance your roles?
RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Leadership is an exercise in time management and delegation. As a Marine veteran, I take duty very seriously so neither role will take precedence. Many in our party have to wear multiple hats, and I will be no different in that regard.
Will you be paid for being CYD president or receive a per diem? Will you visit Sacramento HQ often?
No, the CYD president is a volunteer role. I will have to travel the state in order to organize the efforts of Young Democrats across the state. We are the margin of victory and this year, and the stakes are so high. We will launch a vibrant campaign to Maul the Recall in Orange County [of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman], take back the House, elect Democrats up and down the ticket and empower Young Democrats to become leaders in their community or elected officials themselves.
What are your key plans for CYD?The California Young Democrats must grow the organization because we will be at the vanguard of the resistance. As we ran for office, my team ran with a plan that boils down into the following seven points:
- To hire a staff to execute the organization’s mission and political operation.
- To formalize our resource and development strategy.
- To formalize our communications, increase Young Democrat and voter engagement.
- To invest in the development of our members, chapters and caucuses.
- To take the fight to Republicans in battleground House districts and to maul the ridiculous Orange County Senate Recall.
- To build a “Pipeline to Power” for our members from high school chapters, college chapters, young professional chapters and into party leadership, community leadership and elected office.
- To strengthen California’s voice as a leader in the national resistance.
What were Sunday’s votes besides your 182-64? Who else was running? Who else elected to CYD offices?
- Valeria Hernandez, from Fem Dems of Sacramento, was elected CYD Vice President of Membership.
- Diane Le, from San Francisco Young Democrats, was elected CYD Vice President of Finance.
- Jennifer Sosa, from San Diego County Young Democrats, was elected CYD Vice President of Operations.
- Xochitl Medrano, from San Gabriel Valley Young Democrats, was elected CYD Secretary.
- Gabriel Smith, from San Bernardino County Young Democrats, was re-elected CYD Parliamentarian.
- Mike Sharif, from Sacramento County Young Democrats, was re-elected CYD Political Director.
- Aref Aziz, from Sacramento County Young Democrats, was re-elected CYD Communications Director.
- Christen Hebrard, from Black Los Angeles County Young Democrats, was elected National Committeeperson.
- Igor Tregub, from East Bay Young Democrats, was re-elected National Committeeperson.
- Josh Donner, from the College Democrats of Channel Islands, was elected president of the California College Democrats.
- Resa Barillas, Chris Brieño, Giovanni Chavez, David Kornahrens, Tyler Maxwell, Max Perrey and Jason Serang were re-elected regional directors.
- Jonathan Abboud, Gustavo Barragan and Codi Vierra were elected regional directors.
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