LOCAL GOVERNMENT:

Price’s Carmen Gomez wins school board election in first attempt at running for office

December 21, 2018
Carmen Gomez and Dean Knott

Dean Jack H. Knott with Carmen Gomez, new member of the Paramount Unified School District Board

By Leslie Ridgeway

There’s a first time for everything, and in Carmen Gomez’s case, that meant being elected to the Paramount Unified School District Board — her first shot at running for public office.

Gomez was sworn in Dec. 10 by USC Price School Dean Jack H. Knott, who did the honors in the presence of her proud family and friends. She was also elected president of the board that night. According to Gomez, the experience has been intense and moving.

“I still pinch myself,” said Gomez, administrative services coordinator at USC Price’s Office of Student Affairs, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy, Management and Planning in 2011 and a Master of Public Administration in 2015, both from USC Price.

A Life-Changing Class

Gomez traces her path into politics back to Michael Woo, a former USC Price professor. In 2007, Gomez was enrolled in Woo’s Urban Planning and Development class. When Woo assigned students to attend a Los Angeles-area public hearing, Gomez asked if she could attend a planning commission meeting in Paramount, where she lived. It changed her perspective… and her life.

“As I sat there, listening, I realized I needed to be up there helping to make decisions for my city,” Gomez said. “I was in Paramount 11 years and I never realized the commission existed. A lot of residents don’t.”

Carmen Gomez

Carmen Gomez, administrative services coordinator at USC Price’s Office of Student Affairs and a USC Price alumna

Her interest led to her appointment to Paramount’s Public Safety Commission in 2007, where she advised the Paramount City Council on issues related to law enforcement and first-responder agencies.

Woo, now dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona, made the assignment to get urban planning students up to speed on the purpose of public hearings and meetings.

“My course assignment may have caused Carmen to realize that her personal commitment could make a difference in the quality of life in her community,” Woo said. “I am humbled by the thought that my choice of a course assignment could have shaped a student’s later decision to embark upon a career in public service.”

The Grassroots Campaign

Gomez’s public safety commission appointment led to a political awakening and concerns about other local issues such as air quality. Soon she and her son, Allen, who graduated with her from USC Price in 2011, were considering running for the Paramount City Council and School Board.

“We felt there was a need for change,” she said. “We talked about it, and decided that I would I would run this year for school board.”

After filing paperwork with the county recorder in August, Gomez began her work in earnest. She received the Los Angeles County Democratic Party endorsement. She also snagged an endorsement from the Laborers’ International Union of North America Number 1309.

Seeing the incumbents’ financial war chests was daunting, but Gomez dedicated herself to grassroots outreach, meeting in person with constituents. She ran on a platform of increasing classroom spending and improving graduation rates.

“I was surprised to learn how much money the incumbents spent on flyers and ads,” Gomez said. “I walked door to door every weekend, telling the residents what I wanted to do as a board member. I walked through the City of Paramount, parts of North Long Beach, Lakewood and South Gate. I would be curious to know how many miles I walked throughout my campaign.”

Like so many races this year, Gomez’s was not final until days after precincts closed. Allen kept watch on the totals on his computer. Even though Carmen was down by 140 votes, she maintained her positive attitude. She said: “If I lose, I will still gain experience, because this will show me what to do when I run next time. I do not give up. Trojans keep Fighting On!” She eventually won by 13 votes, and Allen was the one to give her the good news.

Dean Knott swearing in Carmen Gomez

Dean Knott swearing in the new board member

At Gomez’s request, Dean Knott administered the oath of office. Also present were Carol Rush, associate dean of Student Affairs; Christine Wilson, director of Student Services; Connie Rodgers, executive assistant to the dean; Anne Johnson, special events program coordinator; and Yurri Hyun, appointment and promotion coordinator.

“Carmen Gomez is a wonderful example of the commitment to positive change that we so value at the Price School,” Knott said. “Her dedication and her enthusiasm for public service are inspiring to us all. I am so proud of everything that she has already accomplished, and I look forward to seeing her thrive in this new and important role.”

Gomez said that her colleagues’ and the Price School’s encouragement left her speechless.

“Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed. “No words can express the appreciation, excitement and honor to have the dean there. My husband was ecstatic. I thank Dean Knott, Carol Rush, Mr. Price and the Price Family for the support they’ve given throughout my USC career.”

Riding the wave of enthusiasm, Gomez promptly made her first motion right after her swearing-in, directing the district to research costs for televising school board meetings or putting them on YouTube, as a way to keep busy parents involved.

Gomez’s fondest memory of the night was hearing her 17-year-old granddaughter, Dalia, talking to her mother; her uncle, Allen; and her aunt, Yesenia, about what her grandmother had accomplished, and what it meant to her.

Gomez recalled: “It overwhelmed me with joy to hear my granddaughter say, ‘Mom, Grandma’s getting me interested in politics. I can see myself running for office one day.’”