USC Price School of Public Policy

USC Price Student Wins City Council Seat

Knowledge in Action:

USC Price Student Wins City Council Seat

By Cristy Lytal

Brent Tercero Brent Tercero takes the oath of office at his Pico Rivera City Council inauguration.

Brent Tercero walked to the front of the Pico Rivera City Council chamber with butterflies in his stomach.

At 26 years old, the USC Master of Public Policy (MPP) student was about to be sworn in to a four-year term as the newest member of the five-person group at a Dec. 13 ceremony.

“It was unreal,” he said. “There were a lot of people there, maybe 200. I mean, it was filled to capacity – not even standing room – and then there was a huge overflow crowd in the lobby. It was intense, but it was a great experience.”

A third-generation resident of Pico Rivera whose grandparents moved to the city in 1969, Tercero always has been ready to serve his community and society.

He majored in history and political science at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., before making a commitment to Teach for America. He worked as a teacher in South Los Angeles while earning his Master of Arts in education from Loyola Marymount University, but the school district laid him off after his second year in 2009.

“At the time, I was 23, and I couldn’t find a job,” he said. “It was really demoralizing and frustrating. That spurred me to want to change fields so people like myself and everyday citizens didn’t have to worry about failing even though they were working hard.”

He enrolled in the MPP program at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and started attending City Council meetings. He became inspired to get more involved, and when three council seats opened up, he launched his campaign against the three incumbents and several other challengers.

Fellow MPP student Leonard Hyman served as his chief communications officer.

“The slogan for the campaign was ‘Building on the Past, Securing Our Future,’ ” said Hyman, who worked for six years as a writer for radio, a marketer, a journalist and a blogger before pursuing his MPP. “I was the point person for helping Brent with his flyers and mailers, and giving him talking points when he was in debates and when he was talking to the press.”

Tercero focused his platform on holding the government accountable and building a strong community. He advocated for putting a sunset clause on Pico Rivera’s sales tax, the highest in the state and second highest in the nation. He also promoted education through plans for partnerships between nonprofits, schools and parks. Lastly, he campaigned for water conservation and environmental awareness.

In getting his message out, Tercero took a straightforward approach.

“I started door-knocking on Aug. 15 or 16, and I knocked almost every single day until Election Day,” he said. “I knocked on over 2,000 doors.”

It proved to be a simple but effective strategy. “I was a little humbled by how well that worked,” Hyman said. “He won based on being out there and taking this very grassroots approach.”

Several USC Price graduate students knocked on doors and made calls on Tercero’s behalf. Gina Marie Gonzalez, Alexander Mishkin, John Roberson, Jessica Papia and Matthew Stauffer volunteered their time, and many other students made small donations of $10 or $20 to the campaign.

Tercero credited USC with supporting his dream to serve the city in other ways as well.

“My education at USC has been critical in giving me the intellectual tools to dissect decisions and policy,” he said. “And hopefully, we can come together [as a city council] and make some great decisions to impact the future.”