Voters head to the polls on Nov. 8 to decide who will represent them in state Senate District 20, a competitive tussle between two Democrats, Daniel Hertzberg and Caroline Menjivar, both natives of the San Fernando Valley. The district spans the Valley and environs from the city of San Fernando to Burbank, and includes Canoga Park, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pacoima and Van Nuys.
Hertzberg is the son of Bob Hertzberg, former speaker of the California state Assembly and now state Senate majority leader emeritus, who represents the District 18 area that is mostly becoming District 20 for this year’s election. Hertzberg senior is running for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors against West Hollywood City Council member Lindsey Horvath.
Menjivar is the director of the Pacoima nonprofit organization Meet Each Need with Dignity, which provides food and support to low-income families.
The fight to represent state Senate District 20 is considered a highly competitive local race, after when Daniel Hertzberg came in just ahead of Menjivar in the June primary. The runoff winner on Nov. 8 will represent a district whose voters are 50% Latino, 32.5% White, 11% Asian, 5% Black. In the district, 53% of voters are registered Democrats, 16% are Republicans and 24% do not state a preference.
Hertzberg, 30, described himself as a “Valley boy” in an October interview with the Los Angeles Daily News. He grew up in different parts of the Valley, including Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys, and today lives in Burbank. He worked as a business development manager at DoubleTree By Hilton Carson and held internships with various lawmakers and studied political science at Goucher College.
Working in the hospitality industry and performing jobs as a dishwasher, waiter, maintenance guy and front desk worker, he said, helped him relate better to working-class families who make up a majority of residents in state Senate District 20.
“I understand just how grilling and back-breaking those jobs are for the wages that simply sometimes aren’t enough,” he said.
Issues he said he would tackle include creating more affordable housing and improving healthcare. He said, “These are all humongous concerns for people, and everyone wants to know how they’re going to survive in California as inflation rises.”
As a renter, Hertzberg said he wants to see more protections for renters and more programs that help residents pay their utility bills. He says he will heavily focus on the environment, immigration, inflation, homelessness and public safety
Hertzberg has secured endorsements from high-profile politicians including U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas and powerful unions including the California Nurses Association, Cal Fire Local 2881, and Grocery Workers UFCW Local 770, and has raised nearly $1 million.
Menjivar, 33, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose parents immigrated here from El Salvador, served as a field deputy in the office of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and later became the East Valley’s representative for Mayor Eric Garcetti. She worked as an emergency medical technician and studied at UCLA, where she earned a master’s degree in social welfare.
At the start of the pandemic, while working in Garcetti’s office, Menjivar organized conference calls to update residents with the latest information and hosted socially distanced events including the San Fernando Valley LGBTQ+ Pride Car Parade. She has volunteered with The Help Group’s Kaleidoscope Advisory Board, assisting LGBTQ+ youth and young adults.
Menjivar has been endorsed by California State Sen. Henry Stern, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, San Fernando Vally Young Democrats and California Environmental Voters and has raised $360,000.
While knocking on doors recently, Menjivar said she heard residents’ concerns about environmental justice, housing affordability and mental health challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.
“This district has one of the highest rates of children with asthma and experiences extreme heat,” she added. “There is no green canopy. There are areas without concrete sidewalks, so you see a lot of dust. And the Black and brown communities are breathing it.”
She said affordability is a big challenge for Valley residents, especially when the median home price reached nearly $1 million.
“You’re seeing more multiple generations having to live in one household because they can’t afford a house, because it’s so expensive,” she said. “In no way can we get to that American dream, as our parents did.”
Menjivar said mental health issues have plagued Valley residents, especially families of essential workers who continued cleaning homes, working in grocery stores and performing other essential work during the pandemic. She said what sets her apart from Hertzberg is that she understands how government agencies work.
“I’m this community,” she said. “This is a majority Latino district and I am Latina. I speak the language of the majority of constituents here. I have an academic foundation as a social worker, and I have experience living and working in the community.”
Fernando Guerra, senior lecturer for the political science department and managing director at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said the race will determine who represents the Valley neighborhoods in the next 12 years, because it’s hard to upset an incumbent.
“What happens is that you have two very strong Democrats — and many Democratic parties and leaderships and other Democrats are neutral — but many endorsed the one or the other,” he said.
“Daniel Hertzberg has more resources and his father is running for a supervisor in a district that almost completely overlaps” state Senate District 20, Guerra said. “That’s an advantage.”
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But since the younger Hertzberg is not nearly as well-known as his father, Guerra said, “I can easily see the situation where his father wins for supervisor, but (Daniel) doesn’t win.”
One factor that benefits Menjivar is that some voters who cast ballots in the June primary for another Latino candidate might now give their runoff election votes to Menjivar, Guerra said. That, plus a probable increase in turnout on Nov. 8, could bring out more Latino voters, and “one would clearly assume that Menjivar is a favorite” among them, he said.
Hertzberg said that while some will underestimate him because he has not held office, “I spent time working in state governments, working in federal governments, local governments, I worked for campaigns. But the reason that I’m here, and what I’m most proud of, is my work as a working-class person, a member of the hospitality industry — because I’ve done that hard work that a lot of folks in Senate District 20 have done.”
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