Freshman Claremont City Councilmember Jed Leano was honored in Los Angeles Sunday as the 41st Assembly District’s Democrat of the Year.
“It almost feels a little bit like the day after the election when you win in that it feels great but you don’t really know what happened because it’s a little bit overwhelming,” Mr. Leano said.
The annual Roosevelt Dinner was full up with Golden State Democratic movers and shakers, including state controller Betty Yee, lieutenant governor Eleni Kounalakis, representatives from districts far and wide, and about 50 of Mr. Leano’s family and friends.
“It feels incredible,” said Mr. Leano, 39. “The best part was I was able to be with my family and a lot of supporters from Claremont, friends from high school, and from when I lived in Pasadena. It was a real nice collection of people that have helped me along the way.”
Being recognized as one of the California’s top Democrats begs the question: does he aspire to higher office?
“I, 100 percent, have the best job you could ever ask for in politics, which is representing Claremont,” he said. “Residents are super engaged and super involved. The amount of people paying attention to the issues is incredible. Anything beyond Claremont really doesn’t occupy a great deal of space in my brain right now.”
Mr. Leano went on to say that had his focus been on furthering his political career, he’d have shied away from tough issues such as homelessness, which he’s made one of his primary concerns.
“What I want to try to handle and tackle, I don’t know that it lends itself to political gain,” Mr. Leano said. “You have to confront problems that make people uncomfortable and unhappy—that are primal—like protectionism and fear. Certainly if I wanted to pursue an easy path, taking on these things is not the way to do it.”
In state and national politics, being feted by a particular party—which some might see as being prepped for higher office—might alienate some folks back home. But that’s not how Mr. Leano sees it with respect to Claremont.
“I have a lot of supporters who are not Democrats,” Mr. Leano said. “They call me and we talk about things that are concerning to them, and the discussions we have are not talking points from any political party. I’m glad I was honored by my party, and I’m proud to be a member, but I don’t think my party affiliation is how we should go about solving problems.”
The old Tip O’Neill adage that all politics is local appears to hold true for Mr. Leano. For now he’s content and proud to be legislating for Claremont’s some 35,000 residents.
“I don’t hide my party politics,” Mr. Leano said, “but I do think that some of the things the Democratic Party is working on—things related to poverty and sustainability—are things you can work on at a local level. When you strip down local issues, they truly are non-partisan.”
Mr. Leano said he is grateful Claremont politics haven’t yet sunk to the level of toxic tribalism that dominates much of the national debate. But that’s not to say there aren’t divisions here at home.
“Don’t worry, there’s tribalism, it’s just not Democratic versus Republican,” Mr. Leano said. “If my eyes are serving me correctly, there is definitely an ‘us versus them.’ I’m not thrilled about it, and I try to be neither, I just try to be myself, but there is definitely an ‘us versus them.’”
Two of Mr. Leano’s takeaways from Sunday’s shindig were, one, Claremont is on the radar of California’s Democratic Party, and, two, they’re galvanized.
“Everyone’s really excited for 2020,” he said. “There was a unifying theme throughout the evening that the work of the next year is going to be really difficult, but everyone is really energized to get it done.”