The politics of LA gossip the mill flooded my phone with texts and calls this morning. Was it true that Congresswoman Wendy Carrillo was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving?
My immediate thought:
He’s not the candidate for the Los Angeles 14th District City Council seat held by Kevin de Leon in a race that’s roiling Eastside politics.
Not the Roosevelt High and Cal State Los Angeles graduate who enjoys speaking to college students and community groups to let Latinas know they need more of them in politics.
Not the former radio personality who used to host a PR show on Power 106 called “Knowledge is Power” that identified local heroes and urged Latinos to lift up our community at all times.
Not the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador who fought the good fight in Sacramento for undocumented Californians and for the rehabilitation of women sterilized by the state without their consent.
Yes, Wendy. The gossip it turned out to be true.
Carrillo, 43, was booked Friday morning on suspicion of driving under the influence and being involved in a traffic collision while having a high blood alcohol content — in other words, twice or more than the legal limit. A law enforcement source said police responded around 1:30 a.m. in the 6200 block of Monterey Street near Highland Park, where a driver struck two parked cars.
In a statement released before she left jail, Carrillo apologized, though she said nothing about the arrest or alleged drunken driving. “I am held to a higher standard that requires personal responsibility for my conduct and I accept responsibility for my actions,” Carrillo wrote. “I intend to seek the necessary help and support.”
Considered one of De León’s two main challengers, her arrest will inevitably launch a sea of opposition “Wino Wendy” mailers between now and the March primaries. Whether her chances are kaput is something for Eastside voters to decide — if she stays in the race. But he can no longer claim the moral high ground against De León, who is still trying to move on after mocking black political power in a leaked tape that brought down City Hall.
It’s one thing to be caught talking bigoted trash in a secretly recorded conversation. It’s another thing to get behind the wheel after too many drinks and crash in the middle of the night.
This stain on Carrillo’s reputation and career is permanent. She is no longer going to be seen as just a homegrown champion of the Eastside. She’s the latest Latina politician to make her constituents proud and then embarrass them with stupid falls that never needed to happen.
In 2018, it was Bell District Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia who was removed from her commission duties following an investigation into alleged sexual harassment of a male staffer years earlier. Although cleared of that charge, Garcia was found to have violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy for “common and pervasive” use of obscene language.
Last year, it was then-Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, the first Latina to hold that position and someone who delighted in introducing herself as the more just go — the bitch boss — of the City Hall. He resigned after appearing on the same tape as De Leon, saying anti-Black and Oaxacan nonsense.
This summer, Riverside City Councilwoman Clarissa Cervantes was arrested a second time for drunken driving, just weeks after she told a judge, “Every day I repent and promise never to repeat these actions.” That didn’t stop the 32-year-old from continuing to run for the Assembly seat held by her sister, Sabrina.
Politicians of all genders and ethnicities mess it up, of course. But Carrillo’s arrest is particularly disappointing as it comes in a year in which Los Angeles lost two legendary Latina politicians: former LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina and former Congresswoman Cindy Montañez. The two drew on their backgrounds to fight against a racist, macho world that would be better if more women he had a say in it.
Molina and Montañez were beloved precisely because they held themselves to a higher standard as Latinas, because allies and enemies alike knew they were true public servants—they would never be caught violating the public trust, inside or outside. of work.
Driving while caught as an elected official is about as bad as you can give to regular folks.
You’re always a fool if you drink and drive. In today’s age of Uber and Lyft, you’re a straight-up stupid. When you’re a politician and you do that, you probably shouldn’t be in office. Your constituents trust you with the responsibility of making policy and getting things right. The last thing they need to worry about is you hitting their cars early in the morning.
It is particularly galling that Carrillo was caught in an easily avoidable mistake. In 2020, he was reprimanded by then-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon for “undesirable” behavior after he was accused of inappropriately hugging and kissing a staffer. Didn’t she realize that her opponents have been under the microscope since then?
It’s even more frustrating when you consider that Carrillo can lean on mentors like state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo and former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a roster of friends throughout the Eastside whenever she needs help. Did no one in that circle consider having a handler around Carrillo at every public appearance in the face of one of the most contentious political races to hit the Eastside in decades?
I am unfortunately familiar with drunk driving arrests. Friends have lost jobs and relationships. My father was hooked at least twice when I was a small child, although he has been sober now for over 40 years. Carrillo should take whatever legal penalties may come her way and not ask for any special treatment. She should then spend the rest of her life and career urging everyone not to drink and drive — and offer herself as a cautionary tale.
Already, calls are coming for Carrillo to drop out of the council race and even resign her seat in the Assembly. He probably won’t, but he should at least think about it – as a lesson in humility and as a reminder of what could have been.
I still remember when she and I met at her family’s home in Boyle Heights in the spring after she told me she was running for City Council. We walked down Avenida Cesar Chavez, where shopkeepers and pedestrians greeted her with genuine joy.
She cast herself as the anti-De Leon, someone who wouldn’t embarrass Latinos and Eastsiders with hubris — and also argued that the Eastside deserved someone who actually cared. We saw dilapidated streets, trash in planters, historic murals labeled unrecognizable.
“It’s not even about Kevin,” Carrillo said at the time. “It’s about respecting this community.”
A DUI arrest does not respect the community. All you had to do was call an Uber.