Young Banker Bails on Goldman Sachs, Runs for Congress
New America Media, News Feature, Kenneth Kim Posted: Feb 27, 2009
Editor’s Note: Inspired by the election of Barack Obama, 26-year-old Emanuel Pleitez quit his lucrative job as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs to forge a new path in public service. NAM staff writer Kenneth Kim interviewed the Democratic candidate about his run for Congress.
LOS ANGELES – Inspired by the singularity of the 2008 Presidential election, Emanuel Pleitez quit his lucrative job as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs – before the banking crisis – to forge a new path in public service.
The 26-year-old Democratic candidate is vying for the seat left vacant by Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who was tapped as labor secretary in the new administration. Pleitez is campaigning for an upcoming special election in California’s 32nd Congressional District against two veteran politicians with household names.
“The change is already happening throughout the country,” Pleitez said to a diverse group of about 100 supporters on Feb 8. “We’re ready to apply it here locally. We don’t want another politician. This is a new politics. It’s about public service.”
The Los Angeles County district includes a portion of East Los Angeles, El Monte, Monterey Park and West Covina. The congressional district has produced many leaders who have helped reshape the state’s political landscape: Julian Dixon, Diane Watson, and Solis.
Growing up in the El Sereno community of East L.A., Pleitez has seen politics turn off so many hardworking people, who believe elected officials are not people like them. The poor were convinced their votes and opinions would not count.
Pleitez said he wants to change this mindset and get citizens engaged and excited about democracy again.
Pleitez faces formidable opposition from challengers Judy Chu, chairwoman of the State Board of Equalization, and State Senator Gil Cedillo, a state legislator since 1998. The person elected to the district would serve 639,000 constituents for the remainder of Solis’ term in 2011.
The special election is scheduled for May 19. California voters will also decide on whether or not to adopt an open primary system for future elections.
Chu said she sees the special election as a chance of lifetime to be in Congress. She has represented the San Gabriel Valley areas for 23 years as an elected official for local and state governments. She has secured endorsements from labor groups and leaders.
Sen. Cedillo, who has authored 80 bills, is best known for passing legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Cedillo, who was born in the East L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights, is counting heavily on strong Latino votes and support.
Latinos make up 62 percent of the residents in the 32nd District, while Asians and non-Hispanic whites make up 18 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Chu already has raised $380,000 for the race and Cedillo has raised about $200,000.
Taking a cue from President Obama, Pleitez is waging a grassroots campaign, relying on volunteers. His main contributors are working people, making modest donations. He said he hasn’t hired a pollster or a political consultant.
Many in El Sereno regard Pleitez as a kid who overcame the obstacles that inner-city kids often face. To local teenagers, he is an inspiration.
“I’ve heard so much about him,” said Jenny Khanh, 17, a Vietnamese-American volunteer in Pleitez’s campaign. “He’s only 26, but already has accomplished a lot.”
Pleitez was born at the L.A. County Hospital and was raised by his mother, Isabel Bravo, 58, who crossed the border from Mexico pregnant with him. He grew up in El Sereno with a sister and never lived with his Salvadorian father.
Like many other single-mother households, the Pleitezes struggled to survive. They relied on government assistance, and struggled to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Pleitez’s experience was common in the neighborhood, where gang killings, drug trafficking and desperate residents trapped in poverty often made the headlines in the local media. Although the situation has improved, said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the area, it remains one of the most under developed parts of Los Angeles.
Wilson High School, Pleitez’s alma mater, ranks near the bottom tier in test scores. According to state records, only 63 percent of the student body graduated in the 2003-04 school year. A UCLA report indicates that the figure can be as low as 44 percent.
But, Pleitez beat the odds. He focused on his studies and varsity sports, demonstrated his leadership as the senior class president, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Urban Studies.
Pleitez’s compelling personal story even impressed his competitor Sen. Cedillo, who recently sat down with him. “I’m very fond of him. I think he has a very bright future,” Cedillo said. “I invited him to join my campaign as soon as possible and bring all his youthful energy, intelligence and volunteers. I’m looking [out] for the best interests for his future.”
Does the 26-year-old Pleitez stand a chance in the upcoming election? His supporters think so.
“Obama was an underdog,” said Carmen Sandovar, 42, who has been phone banking for Pleitez with her own cell phone. “Who would have thought we’d have a black president. Anything can happen in politics now.”
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