Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) will not seek re-election in 2024, which could become a contested race for his heavily Democratic seat in the San Fernando Valley.
Cárdenas, 60, who was the first Latino to represent the district, told the Times that he plans to leave Washington at the end of his term, capping three decades in public office.
“It will be the first time in 28 years that I am not on the ballot,” Cárdenas said in an interview Thursday. “The truth of the matter is that I thought I could only do this for a few years… I’m at the age where I have enough energy and experience to maybe do something. [different] and have another chapter of a career where I don’t have to go to Washington, DC, 32 weeks a year.”
Cárdenas’ announcement is unlikely to threaten Democrats’ bid to regain the House majority. His district, which spans much of the San Fernando Valley, is solidly blue. But his departure creates opportunities for ambitious young Democrats from the Los Angeles area to come to Washington. Cárdenas is backing Luz Rivas, a state assemblywoman who told the Times she would run to replace him.
“Luz is a genuine public servant who has dedicated herself to providing opportunities for the Valley,” Cárdenas said. “She gets things done and she has always put working families first. “I am proud to support Luz for Congress.”
Cárdenas said the lack of non-white representation among people in power was one of the main reasons he first ran for public office. Not having role models of color can stifle non-white children’s ambitions for greatness, he said.
“Our teachers, counselors and police officers looked at us and said, ‘We’ll never amount to anything,’” he said. “I don’t think anyone with those titles should tell a child that you’re never going to ride anything. But we have all experienced that filth, that trash, those lies.”
Cárdenas was elected to the Assembly for the first time in 1996, at age 33. He later served three terms in Sacramento and won three more on the Los Angeles City Council. In 2013, he became the first Latino to represent the Valley in Congress, handily winning election after redistricting removed Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s Burbank home from the district.
Cárdenas said he is proud of the work he has done in his career, particularly his efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system and ban solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons. As a congressman, Cárdenas was the lead sponsor of more than 180 bills, three of which became law, including one in 2021 that addressed crib safety for babies.
In Washington, he served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and spearheaded an effort to bring a Smithsonian Latino Museum to the National Mall. He chaired BOLD PAC, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and during his tenure , the committee’s coffers grew, as did the number of Latinos elected to Congress.
Cárdenas failed to ascend to party leadership in the House of Representatives in 2020 and was passed over by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) last year in choosing House Committee Chairman. Democratic campaign for Congress. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a woman sued Cárdenas, alleging that he had sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. The woman later dismissed her lawsuit, which Cardenas’ lawyers characterized as a “total vindication.”
Cárdenas praised the now senator. Alex Padilla, his close friend and roommate in Washington. Padilla was also his campaign manager in his first run for president in 1996.
Weeks before Election Day 1996, Cárdenas saw an article in the Los Angeles Times, which was open on Padilla’s desk. The article, which detailed his campaign’s financial problems, left him feeling depressed, he said.
Shortly after, his sister told him that their father, Andrés, had risked his life to save a man who had been trapped in a burning field in Stockton decades earlier.
His father never shared that story with him while he was alive.
“I didn’t need that story at the time,” he said. But “that day I needed something. And boom, it arrived.”
“For the first time in my life I said to myself: this is my community, this is my country,” he said. “And I’m going to finish this. Whether I win or not, it doesn’t matter. “I’m going to finish this and do it right.”
This story will be updated.