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Recent MIT Graduate Elected to Los Angeles City Council

Alex Padilla: A

By Anna K. Benefiel

Although many MIT graduates have gone onto great success in fields of technology, Alex Padilla ’94 is one seeking success in the non-technological world of politics. In the five years following his graduation from MIT, recently-elected Los Angeles City Councilman Padilla has been busy.

“Politics is like my MIT schedule continued -- the demands, in terms of your time and energy, are the same,” said the 26-year-old Padilla.

Elected on June 8th of this year, Padilla now represents his childhood community in the San Fernando Valley. He is the second youngest person, and the youngest Latino, ever elected to the Los Angeles City Council, an honor he takes in stride while embarking on an ambitious plan that he hopes will make life better for his constituents and the city of Los Angeles.

Padilla spoke about his roots in the mostly Latino and “majority minority” San Fernando community where he grew up, where “community involvement has always been” a part of his life. At MIT, Padilla majored in Mechanical Engineering, but spent a significant amount of time recruiting from communities much like his own, “speaking at high schools and working in telethons to try to get more students, especially underrepresented minorities, to apply,” he said.

“More people,” Padilla said, “from my community can and should be going to institutions like MIT.” Padilla himself wouldn’t have applied to MIT had he not relied upon the advice of a life-long best friend, who suggested that Padilla use his affinity for math and science to become an engineer.

As an undergraduate, he was an active member of La UniÓn Chicana por AztlÁn and the Society of Hispanic Engineers. He lived at Zeta Psi and Bexley and worked through school in jobs at the Athletic Department, Sloan School, and later the Admissions Office.

MIT training for politicians

“MIT,” with its hectic and often sleep-deprived schedule, “was a great training ground” for a political career, joked Padilla.

Padilla said, “I absolutely encourage everybody to get involved politically -- whether it’s electoral politics or getting a stop sign on your block. You [can make] an impact in your community, large or small,” he said.

“Pick something you care about, and get involved,” he continued. “Get hands-on experience,” and work with an “issue, or proposition on a ballot, or candidate... Make sure it’s something you care about and believe in. You have to believe it in your mind and in your heart, otherwise you’re compromising yourself and the democratic process that we live in,” he said.

Padilla attracting press attention

Focusing on issues of “quality of life, the economy, public safety, and education,” Padilla has already attracted press attention for efforts to curb gang violence, create jobs, appoint conscientious members to the local community college school board, and reopen power generation facilities in his district. Sworn in to office just slightly after the official halfway point in his predecessor’s term, Padilla has also sparked some debate about rules governing term limits in city politics.

As the Chair of the Information Technology Committee for Los Angeles, Padilla’s future agenda includes setting information technology policy for the city internally and externally. However, being representative of the second largest city in the country, “any overall policy decision has implications not just for my district and for L.A., but also for the state and the country as a whole,” Padilla said.

Aside from his day-to-day job obligations, Padilla also hopes to meet a more philosophically wide-reaching goal.

“I have a duty and a personal desire to really represent everybody,” he said. “Political and quality of life issues to me aren’t really ethnic-based. Everybody wants a safe community, and... to have trash picked up once a week, and potholes fixed.”

During his campaign, Padilla’s age was an issue, as were his “grades” -- scores determined by a San Fernando Valley secession-advocacy group, not his MIT grade-point average. Padilla points out that leaders of our time ranging from John F. Kennedy to Einstein to Martin Luther King Jr. began their campaigns to improve the human condition at young ages.

“It’s not just about getting elected to office... it’s not about age,” asserted Padilla. “It’s about your commitment and your ability to accomplish anything you set out to do. Electoral politics is unique in that you can’t do it alone. You have to go out and inspire others and work with them to be able to do anything.”