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Canvasser Controversy Erupts In LA Congressional Race For District 34

Tight headshots of Congressional candidate David Kim and incumbent Jimmy Gomez.
Congressional candidate David Kim (left) is challenging incumbent Jimmy Gomez (right) in the race to represent a district that includes Boyle Heights and Koreatown.
(David Kim for Congress website; Getty Images)
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Anti-Asian remarks allegedly made by a canvasser for U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez have sparked a new racial controversy in Los Angeles just weeks after a leaked audio of council members making racist remarks caused a political earthquake.

Gomez’s campaign says it acted quickly against the unnamed canvasser for the incumbent, who is in a heated rematch with David Kim, a fellow Democrat.

“All the facts point to this being a volunteer who was not a regular part of the campaign, was not using an approved campaign script, and is no longer involved with the campaign in any capacity,” according to a statement from the Gomez campaign.

Anti-Asian Comments Reported To Campaign

The Gomez campaign said it opened an investigation after Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez reported that a canvasser made anti-Asian comments on a stop at her Highland Park home.

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In its statement, the campaign said workers have been notified “that any person using anti-Asian language or mentioning anyone’s ethnicity is not permitted to be involved with the Jimmy Gomez for Congress campaign.”

The race has drawn attention for being one of several House races in California between Democrats, and because Gomez is accusing Kim of seeking a “QAnon MAGA" endorsement during their first match-up in 2020. Kim, who is running to Gomez' left, says he did accept the endorsement of a Republican candidate who lost in the 2020 primary to show he could work across the aisle and only afterward learned about her fringe beliefs.

Opponent Demands Apology

Prominent Asian American Democrats are taking sides in the canvassing episode while debate churns through Koreatown — part of a congressional district that also contains Boyle Heights, downtown L.A. and Eagle Rock. Korean-language dailies have jumped on the story.

Kim said he is “thankful that [Gomez] is taking the basic steps,” but they’re insufficient.

“The next step is to make a formal apology to members of the community and constituents who are affected by the anti-Asian racist comment,” Kim told LAist.

Kim and his supporters also say this was not an isolated incident, pointing to a second similar allegation made by another voter in the district.

How The Controversy Started

The controversy erupted Sunday, when Councilmember-elect Hernandez tweeted that a female canvasser had visited her home to campaign for Gomez and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, whose districts overlap.

“To my shock and dismay, she made anti-asian comments,” Hernandez tweeted.

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Hernandez, who has endorsed Kim, told LAist she was in another room when she overheard the canvasser speak in Spanish to a "loved one," whom she does not want to identify for privacy reasons.

Hernandez said as the canvasser was about to leave, she said, “‘Well, you do know that their opponents are Asian, right?’”

“Well, you do know that their opponents are Asian, right?”

The alleged comment was an apparent reference to Kim and to Carrillo’s challenger, Mia Livas Porter, a fellow Democrat who is Filipina American.

Hernandez said she was “pissed” by what she heard so she followed the canvasser out to the street and shouted in Spanish: “Why did you feel the need to say that?”

She said the woman replied, “‘Well, I'm just sharing information.’ And I said, 'Well, you know, that's not what you should be talking about, considering all the racism that's coming out of the city council right now.'”

Gomez and Carrillo both reached out to Hernandez after her tweet and had separate phone conversations with her, the councilmember-elect said.

A Second Allegation About A Carrillo/Gomez Canvasser

Another Highland Park voter, Robert Quan, told LAist he was approached at his home in late October by two female canvassers campaigning for Gomez and Carrillo.

Quan, who runs a City Hall watchdog account on Twitter under the handle UnrigLA, said one of the canvassers said to him: “‘We need to elect Latinos to represent Latinos.’”

Quan is Asian American but said he is often mistaken for Latino.

Asked about Quan’s account of the exchange, the Gomez campaign said it had not previously heard of it and referred us to its statement addressing the claim made by Hernandez.

In a statement, Carrillo said: “I’ve been steadfast in my opposition to anti-Asian hate, and hate directed towards ANY community. My campaign has not conducted itself in any way that can be fairly described as discriminatory.”

Porter said Carrillo and Gomez should offer apologies, but she is not expecting to get one.

“David and I are truly trying to build coalitions and I don’t see that from them,” Porter said. “They're just trying to wedge the divide.”

After the canvassing incident, Porter recounted a conversation on Twitter where she claimed Carrillo told her “this district needs to be represented by a Latino.”

What Carrillo And Others Say

In a statement, Carrillo disputes her opponent's account, saying Porter brought up her Filipina background first: “I noted that there is room for all of us at the table, and I also noted that I’m the first Salvadoran immigrant, formerly undocumented person to be elected to the Legislature.”

Statements from prominent progressive Asian American Democrats in support of Carrillo and Gomez and their work with the Asian community accentuated divides among those in office and political hopefuls coming from activist backgrounds.

Rep. Judy Chu, Gomez’s colleague in Congress, said of the canvassing controversy: “This is just a last minute, failed and desperate attempt at influencing politics six days before an election. Jimmy acted in response to the allegations swiftly, immediately and appropriately.” Chu has endorsed Gomez in the race.

Carrillo’s campaign shared a statement from former Council member David Ryu, who runs the Asian Pacific American Leadership Foundation. Ryu said: “She is an (Asian Pacific Islander) ally and champion, any smear campaign against her character is simply untrue and shameful.”

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.