Tributes Pour in for Trailblazing L.A. Politician Gloria Molina

Inaugural Gala Of LA Plaza De Cultura Y Artes

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Tributes continued to pour in Monday for Gloria Molina, one day after the pioneering Southland politician who was the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the L.A. City Council and the state Assembly died of cancer at age 74.

"It is with heavy hearts that our family announces Gloria's passing this evening," Molina's daughter, Valentina Martinez, said Sunday in a statement. "She passed away at her home in Mt. Washington, surrounded by our family.

"Gloria had been battling terminal cancer for the past three years. She faced this fight with the same courage and resilience she lived her life. Over the last few weeks, Gloria was uplifted by the love and support of our family, community, friends, and colleagues. Gloria expressed deep gratitude for the life she lived and the opportunity to serve our community."

Martinez said that while Molina will be remembered as a trailblazer, the family will remember her "as our loving mom and grandmother, protective oldest sister, wise tía and loyal friend. We will miss celebrating with her on Christmas Eve, hosted at her home decked out in a new theme for the holidays and nourished with handmade tamales and a holiday feast with all the trimmings."

The statement described her as "the strong and selfless matriarch of our family."

Molina, who grew up in Pico Rivera, was active in the early days of the Chicano movement, becoming an advocate for women's health issues -- which she continued into her elected offices. At one point, she founded a Nurse Mentoring Program through local community colleges to address a nurse shortage.

She first won elective office in 1982, winning the 56th Assembly District seat and eventually leading a fight to quash a proposed prison in East L.A.

Molina won the City Council's First District seat in 1987, and was elected to the Board of Supervisors representing the county's First District in 1991. She was the first woman elected to the board -- once known as the "Five Little Kings"  -- though Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, was the first woman to actually serve on the board.

Known as a sharp fiscal watchdog, Molina served as a supervisor until 2014, forced out by term limits enacted in 2002. On her exit in 2014, she recalled her early years on the board, by saying, "Everything seemed like a battle."

Prior to her elected positions, she worked as a deputy for presidential personnel in the Jimmy Carter White House.

In recognition of her leadership, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors earlier this year renamed Grand Park in honor of Molina. It's now called Gloria Molina Grand Park.

In a statement Sunday night, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass called Molina "a force for unapologetic good and transformational change in Los Angeles" who "advocated for those who did not have a voice in government through her pioneering environmental justice work, her role as a fiscal watchdog, and her advocacy for public health. She shaped Los Angeles in a lasting way while paving the way for future generations of leaders."

Bass' tribute was just one of many.

"Words can't express the loss of Gloria Molina," said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who introduced the motion to rename Grand Park -- a park that Molina championed as an urban green space.

"She was a beacon of hope to many -- including myself. Seeing her break several glass ceilings throughout her public service career inspired me to follow in her footsteps and be of service to our community. ... I am heartbroken to lose a champion for Latinos, for mujeres, and for the Eastside. While she may no longer be physically with us, we will forever feel her impact."

L.A. City Councilman Tim McOsker said the date of Molina's passing was significant.

"It's deeply moving that on Mother's Day, the mother of the Los Angeles Latina political movement has passed," McOsker said. " ... Molina was not only a trailblazer, but she held the door open for other Latinas in government to walk through."

Supervisor Janice Hahn issued a statement saying, "It takes an enormous amount of courage to be the first woman in the room and Gloria was the first woman and first Latina in nearly every room she was in across her career. She didn't just make space for herself -- she opened the door to the rest of us. Women in politics, particularly in Los Angeles County, owe a great debt of gratitude to Gloria Molina."

Sen. Alex Padilla said that, "For countless women, Latinos, and young people, there's been no better champion or role model in California politics than Gloria Molina. She dedicated her life to public service, entering political office during a time when few women or Latinos held top roles in public office.  ... She was never, ever one to shy away from a tough fight."

Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said, "Our Los Angeles Unified community mourns the passing of Gloria Molina, a Latina trailblazer in politics and public service. ... Her legacy will be felt for generations to come in the reforms and outcomes she secured for her constituents, as well as the lives of the people she mentored and inspired."

L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón called Molina "a true champion in the fight for equity and justice" and added, "Her commitment to uplifting underrepresented communities and creating a more just society will continue to inspire and motivate us all to work toward a better future.

Archbishop José Gomez, in a tweet, described Molina as "a dedicated public servant, a compassionate voice for the poor, & a leader in working for justice in our society. May God grant her eternal rest & give consolation to her loved ones."

Cardinal Roger Mahony also reflected on Molina's accomplishments, saying, "She was fearless in confronting institutional injustice such as the infamous Exide battery complex in East Los Angeles."

"She continued to point out that companies would readily build dangerous plants and factories in the poorest neighborhoods because they thought those communities lacked the political influence to object," Mahony added. "Gloria Molina proved them wrong over her long political career which always focused on the most underserved members of our society."

Mahony also said that Molina was influential in the ultimate location of the new Los Angeles cathedral after its predecessor was badly damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1994..

"I am particularly grateful to her and her staff for advising me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that the large county parcel on Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street would be an ideal site for our new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels," Mahony said. "Without her outreach to me and her continued work with our team from 1995 forward our new Cathedral would never have become a reality."

The Weingart Foundation, a private grantmaking foundation that partners with communities across Southern California to advance racial justice, released a statement saying, "We join all Angelenos in mourning the loss of a tremendous pioneering leader ... she not only opened doors for others to follow, she transformed lives."

The Committee for Greater LA, a cross-sectoral group of civic leaders working to advance system changes and dismantle institutional racism, released statement from committee Chair Miguel A. Santana, who said they mourn "the loss of a trailblazer and community champion."

"No matter how challenging the path, Supervisor Molina never backed down from doing what was right and most impactful for the community. Time and again, she exemplified what it means to put community first."

Molina "fought for marginalized communities so that they could have their fair share of basic services after years of disinvestment and neglect," according to the organization.

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes issued a statement describing Molina as "a champion for social justice," who was committed to creating public spaces for Angelenos. The organization also said it will host a public celebration of life for Molina on July 8.

Molina is survived by her husband, Ron Martinez; daughter; Valentina Martinez; son-in-law, Brendan Curran; grandson, Santiago; as well as nine siblings: Gracie, Irma, Domingo, Bertha, Mario, Sergio, Danny, Olga and Lisa.

In lieu of flowers, Molina's family requests that donations be made to Casa 0101 and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in her memory "to inspire and empower future generations through the arts."

Funeral services were pending.

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