Thu. Jun 20th, 2024

Bay Area official Lateefah Simon aims to win Barbara Lee’s Congressional seat

By 37ci3 Mar19,2024


When Lateefah Simon, a congressional candidate for California’s 12th District, stopped by Rep. Barbara Lee’s campaign headquarters in Oakland on Super Tuesday, she intended to wish the veteran congresswoman running for U.S. Senate well.

“I was told he was flying to Washington,” said Simon, whose campaign shared the same downtown office building. “Just wanted to say hello and show my support.”

But it was the congressman who surprised Simon with a gift. He held the candidate’s hand during a press conference and passed the baton to him — literally — as supporters and media looked on.

“Barbara gave me an actual cane“said Simon, 47, from the bright blue cylinder, which he received with cheers and applause. “I’m humbled. It’s an honor and a great responsibility, I feel I have to live up to it.”

Earlier this month, Simon emerged as the top vote-getter in a field with nine votes. officially Lee won 55% of the vote in the primary for the seat he has held for 26 years. Simon will face his closest challenger, fellow Democrat Jennifer Tran, in the November general election.

Simon is currently president of the Meadow Foundation, which provides grants and funding to organizations focused on race, gender, justice reform, and voting rights. He also serves as a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board, an elected position he says stems from his “belief” in public transportation.

Rep. Barbara Lee, right, with Lateefah Simon.
Rep. Barbara Lee, right, with Lateefah Simon in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday.East Bay Times via Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/Getty Images

Her previous roles as a civil rights advocate and nonprofit leader over the past two decades focused primarily on capital initiatives.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for people who traditionally don’t have a voice in places of power,” said the San Francisco native.

Simon said she was inspired by female leaders like Lee and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Simon and Lee first met years ago at the then all-women’s Mills College, which merged with Northeastern University in 2022. “He was teaching a course and I was one of his students,” recalls Simon. “We’ve been connected ever since. I just love him.”

Although they were born decades apart, there were some parallels in their lives. Both were single mothers when they were young, sometimes bringing their children to class because of the lack of childcare. Both awakened to the power of politics, advocacy, and community organizing to effect change.

Now, Simon is seeking to represent the district where Lee, the highest-ranking black woman ever appointed to the House Democratic leadership, has served since 1998.

According to the US Census dataCalifornia’s 12th District is one of the most multiracial, politically progressive districts in the country—home to cities like Berkeley, where the free-speech movement flourished, to Oakland and its libertarian politics.

Lee has decided to forego re-election in the House to run for the Senate in favor of being nominated, previously by the late Dianne Fainstein, and now by her appointed successor, Sen. Laphonza Butler. Lee lost initially To fellow Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, he will face Republican Steve Garvey, the runner-up in the November primary.

Meanwhile, Lee plans to serve out his House term until a new member is sworn in next January. He officially endorsed Simon, calling him “a true fighter for peace and justice.”

“Lateefah is of the community and for the community,” Lee said. “From her teenage years working to support young women and trans youth to fighting to make public transit more affordable and accessible, she is a fierce advocate and proven leader.”

Simon, who was born legally blind, said they experienced discrimination and faced challenges that gave him a sense of empathy and a lifelong struggle for those in need.

At age 16, she began working as an outreach coordinator at the Young Women’s Liberation Center in San Francisco, helping marginalized young women to empower themselves.

At the age of 18, she became pregnant and raised her eldest daughter as a single mother. “It was a struggle,” he said, “and I learned firsthand how important it is to make government work for people who really need it.”

She persevered and was eventually promoted to the center’s executive director. She gained national recognition for her efforts and, at age 26, in 2003 became the youngest woman to receive the prestigious MacArthur “genius” fellowship.

Sometime later, he met Kamala Harris, then-San Francisco prosecutor, who would become a key influence for Simon as she was tapped to help develop and lead an anti-recidivism initiative for young adults. level crimes.

“He told me to excel and encouraged me to continue my education,” says Simon, who has a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco. “And he introduced me to my future husband,” said Kevin Weston, a journalist. The couple was married until his death from cancer in 2014.

Simon is raising the couple’s 12-year-old daughter with the support of his eldest daughter – now a lawyer – and the proverbial “village”.

Even with health insurance, Simon said, her late husband’s hospital bills left her nearly $1 million in debt. He was happy to rally around the East Bay chain, he said, helping with everything from rent to groceries. “I understand what working families are going through,” she said.

Deborah Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics, said it’s this kind of “lived experience” that female candidates can bring to Congress.

In addition to Lee’s nod, Simon also garnered key endorsements from Gov. Gavin Newsom and labor groups SEIU, EMILY’s List and Higher Heights for America PAC.

Collective PAC, which works to increase black political participation and representation and has helped more than 400 candidates win races across the country, also endorsed Simon.

Co-founder and President Quentin James told NBC News that it’s “more difficult” for black female candidates to raise the crowdfunding needed to buy ads and pay for multiple elements of a federal campaign. Still, he believes in Simon – his team said he was raised over $1.2 million to date – well positioned. His “CV and resume speak for themselves,” James said. “He went above and beyond in supporting his community. He got the job done.”

Simon hopes that he will meet the late Shirley Chisholm of New York and Rep. of California. Congressional Black Caucus co-founders such as Ron Dellums, both of whom have passed on the mantle of service to Lee, may continue in the footsteps of other Black members.

“The cane that Mr. Dellums gave him was also real,” he said.

In general, Simon wants to be a champion for the people. “I want to take their stories with me to Washington so that their voices are heard by the most powerful leaders in the country,” she said.

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