LA Daily News: Tony Cárdenas bids teary ‘thank you’ to the Valley after 28 years of service

By Clara Harter

Congressman Tony Cárdenas, the first person of color to represent the San Fernando Valley in the U.S. Congress, has announced he will not seek reelection in 2024.

On Monday morning, the teary-eyed congressman said his decision is based on a desire to spend more time with his family and usher in the next generation of leaders after 28 years of public service.

His departure will open up a race for a seat in the heavily Democratic 29th District, which includes the cities of San Fernando, Van Nuys, Pacoima, Arleta, Panorama City, Sylmar, and parts of Sun Valley and North Hollywood.

Cárdenas has endorsed as his successor state Assemblymember Luz Rivas, who is seeking to follow in his footsteps by becoming the first Latina to represent the district.

“I want to take this moment to thank so many people who believed in me, supported me and helped me be a representative of the Northeast San Fernando Valley,” Cárdenas said, “a community that I love, a community that gave so much to me and my ten brothers and sisters and that welcomed two immigrants from Mexico to make a life in the imperfect, but the greatest country on the planet.”

At his Monday press conference attended by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, he delivered a heartfelt speech reflecting on his career, surrounded by his family at Andrés and María Cárdenas Elementary School in Van Nuys. Cárdenas helped open the school in 2010 while serving on Los Angeles City Council. He requested it be named after his parents who immigrated from the U.S. to Mexico in pursuit of a better life for their family.

Although his parents never studied beyond the second grade, he says they were his greatest teachers.

“(They) taught all of us 11 children ‘Always be good,’ ‘If you give your word, you keep it,’ ‘Always help others,’ ‘Never, ever believe that you cannot do the right thing’,” he said. “Those are the values that have allowed me to be awarded the honor to be voted into office, time and time again, for the last 28 years.”

In 1996, Cárdenas was elected to the state Assembly. He went on to serve on the Los Angeles City Council from 2003 to 2013 before setting his eyes on Washington D.C. In 2013, he handily won the newly redistricted 29th District.

He shattered political barriers each step of the way, becoming the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley in Sacramento and then in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Him having the audacity to run, and the way in which he has served, has opened the door for so many folks, especially people who never would have imagined running for office,” said Sen. Alex Padilla. “They did so because of Tony’s example and because of Tony’s support and mentorship. That includes me.”

Padilla and Cárdenas are not only colleagues, but also D.C. roommates and best friends. The pair have many things in common: they are the children of Mexican immigrants, grew up in Pacoima, are graduates of San Fernando High School and share a mission to increase Latino representation in government.

Cárdenas hired Padilla to help run his first campaign in 1996, which is where Padilla learned the ropes of politics before embarking on his own career.

“I had a tremendous example to follow, not just of how I can be a good elected official, but also how I can be a good husband and father and live up to the values that were instilled in us by our parents,” Padilla said.

Padilla praised Cárdenas’ political accomplishments, including his efforts to ban the solitary confinement of minors in federal prisons, improve the state juvenile justice system and advocate for mental health resources. He also emphasized the importance of Cárdenas’ efforts to grow the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and encourage more Latino candidates to run for office.

“One of his biggest impacts the history books will provide is the fight he has led for better representation for communities like ours in all institutions of power, including but not limited to elected office,” said Padilla.

Cárdenas toted a handkerchief and box of Kleenex throughout the press conference as his eyes frequently welled up with emotion.

“I have humbly appreciated the honor of serving my community of the Northeast Valley,” he said, “in the state Legislature, on the City Council, and for our great country as the congressman of the 29th District here in the beautiful San Fernando Valley.”

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