She is the first Latina to serve on the Los Angeles City Council in a quarter century – the second one in history to ever hold the seat.
She’s also the only female on the 15-member council, representing 3.8 million people.
But Nury Martinez, a 40-year old mother and former Los Angeles Unified School District board member, doesn’t see her ascension to city office as historic, or significant.
She said she just saw a chance to run and took it.
The 6th district seat for city council was left vacant when Tony Cárdenas was elected to Congress last November. Martinez was perceived as an underdog in the race because her opponent, Cindy Montañez, had lined up a slew of endorsements and had a significant financial advantage.
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“Women in general need to run, a lot of us have a lot of campaign experience and a lot of us have worked behind the scenes. Many women expect that they are going to get asked to run,” Martinez told Fox News Latino. “When there’s an open seat, a woman should put her name in for consideration.”
And while she’s received a lot of attention because of the dearth of women in Los Angeles city government, her win has quietly been hailed by the Latino community – who had not seen a Latina on the city council since 1987, when Gloria Molina represented the 1st district.
“In terms of a Latina perspective, we also do a lot of work behind the scenes – we volunteer, we run campaigns, we work on community issues in the districts,” Martinez said. “More of us need to run and support each other.”
Los Angeles’s 6th council district is in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, away from the sandy beaches and the trendy shopping districts frequented by movie stars. It’s an area noted for toxic cleanups and working class families trying to achieve the American dream.
Martinez ran promising to bring the district its fair share of the resources.
“This district has always felt that it wasn’t getting its fair share of the resources. I’m 40 and raising my family in the district,” she said. “In all the years I have lived there, I don’t feel that things have really changed.”
Martinez said her own street where she lives has not been repaved in at least 25 years.
“My priority is to respond to my constituents,” she said.
Transportation is a hot topic in Los Angeles, especially in the district Martinez represents, contributing to a sense of disconnect from the rest of the city.
Martinez said that in working on transportation issues, she draws upon the experience of her father – he worked as a dishwasher for 30 years and rode the bus for miles to get to work.
She said she analyzed transportation policy as an executive director of a small nonprofit organization that worked on environmental issues.
“For our families who cannot afford a car, they depend on mass transit to get to work. It’s very frustrating for Valley folks,” Martinez said. “But this goes back to the district getting its fair share of the resources so we can have the same amenities that other areas of the city enjoy.”
While she has an elevated role with newfound power, Martinez said that she still plans to stay close to the neighbors who helped put her in office. She runs her own neighborhood watch with meetings in her home.
In her first week on the job, the councilwoman went to different neighborhood watch meetings in her district to get a sense of which community needs should be addressed first.
“Participating in the neighborhood watch is something that I enjoy. I have a binder full of street and sidewalk complaints that I have been compiling with since I was walking the district as a candidate,” Martinez said. “I want to go back and take pictures and get those streets fixed for the people.”
Adriana Maestas is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.