Robert Lee Ahn. Campaign photo

Can a Korean-American defeat a Latino legislator in a traditionally Latino congressional district?

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and attorney/businessman Robert Lee Ahn will square off Tuesday in a runoff election to fill the vacant 34th Congressional District seat.

Gomez, D-Eagle Rock, topped a 24-candidate field in an April 4 special election, collecting roughly 25 percent of the vote, with fellow Democrat Ahn second with 22 percent. Because no candidate received a majority, Gomez and Ahn were forced into Tuesday’s runoff.

Jimmy Comez. Campaign photo

The special election was prompted by the appointment of then-Rep. Xavier Becerra as attorney general, succeeding Kamala Harris, who was elected to the Senate. Becerra endorsed Gomez, who said he hopes to “continue to build an inclusive and diverse country that values people from all walks of life.”

The district stretches roughly from Koreatown in the west to the Long Beach (710) Freeway in the east and from the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in the south to the Ventura (134) Freeway in the north. It includes downtown Los Angeles, the Westlake district, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights.

Ahn, a Korean American, is looking to break through in a traditionally Latino district, saying there has not been a “Korean voice in Congress” for two decades, “and never from the Democratic Party.” He painted himself as a political outsider not beholden to special interests.

“I can promise I’m not going to be a `yes man’ to special interests,” Ahn told City News Service. “I’m not going to simply pay them back on day one of my term.

I’m going to chart a course that is focused only on delivering for the district and not simply to get air time on cable TV as a pundit or critic. This district is struggling and it needs help today. I will be the representative to deliver that help from (the) day I’m sworn into office.”

A Los Angeles native, Ahn has a law degree from USC and once worked as a clerk for former District Attorney Ira Reiner before practicing law at a variety of Southland firms. he later joined his family’s real estate and asset- management business. He was appointed to the city’s Redistricting Commission in 2011 by then-Councilman Eric Garcetti, who later appointed Ahn to the city Planning Commission.

Ahn has vowed to fight against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; to support investments in clean energy infrastructure; to resolve the nation’s immigration visa backlog and to push for “humane immigration reform.” He told CNS the district has the largest percentage of low-income households in the state, and they need a “someone who is going to fight for them.”

“This means tackling touch issues that have chronically plagued this district such as homelessness, job creation, health care, transportation, environmental quality, crime and education,” he said.

Gomez was also born and raised in Southern California. He graduated from UCLA then earned a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University.

Gomez was the political director of the United Nurses Association of California and worked with several other unions, and also worked in the offices of then-Councilman Mike Feuer and then-Rep. Hilda Solis. He was elected to the Assembly in 2012, and re-elected in 2014 and 2016.

Gomez said he is running “to fight” President Donald Trump.

“I’ve always believed that in times like these its important to run towards the fight and not away from it,” Gomez told City News Service.

“From expanding paid family leave, to leading the nation in the fight against climate change, we’ve demonstrated that progressive values are achievable. In Congress, I will work to build a new progressive coalition that puts our values first.”

Gomez concedes that the Affordable Care Act “was not perfect” but said he will fight to protect the gains made through the legislation. He has also called for immigration reform and vows to fight rollbacks by “climate change deniers.”

Gomez promised the district’s voters “that no matter what, I’ll put their values first.”

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