Marisa Perez's resume brims with policy-making experience

DOWNEY - Lakewood resident Marisa Perez, who has within the last decade and a half worked for mayors Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as George W. Bush, has placed her name on the ballot for the Cerritos College Trustee Area No. 4 seat, which has been occupied by incumbent Ted Edmiston for the last 20 years.She says among her reasons for running is that no Lakewood resident has so far represented the city on the college board of trustees and the time seems ripe for one since "fifty-five percent of the voting population in the district comes from Lakewood." She noted the configuration of Trustee Area No. 4, after the college district was split into seven districts, as consisting of Lakewood, South Bellflower, part of Hawaiian Gardens and West Cerritos, plus a small area of Long Beach. "I believe in public education," she adds. "I've been in public education all my life, except for the two years I spent at USC earning a masters. My parents worked for the government, and spent their lives in public service." "As a Lakewood resident with children attending schools in the Bellflower Unified School District," she wrote earlier, "I want to ensure Cerritos College continues to be responsive to the needs of our diverse community." Having worked at one point at Long Beach City College, she says she is "keenly aware of the funding challenges facing public education, and developing budgets within these constraints." She says this is one of her strengths. Perez comes well-armed for the political battle with Edmiston. After getting her BS in bioengineering from Texas A&M in 1996 on a scholarship, she proceeded, with a fellowship, to earn a master's in public policy in 1998 at USC. ("I feel very lucky and very blessed," she said, "and I want all the students to have these kinds of opportunities.") She narrates that while she was at Texas A&M, she had this nuclear engineering professor, Dr. Lee Pettingworth, who "opened our eyes further to the ideal of public service. He took us to the state capitol once. As we were active on campus, very involved with leadership issues, Latina causes, and so on, he inspired me to pursue leadership roles in public service. 'This is the type of people we need', he said." While still in graduate school, Perez first worked as an intern in the Office of Mayor Riordan, then was hired full-time as a policy analyst (1997-98). "This was my first job," Perez said. She was then promptly recruited to join then Texas governor George W. Bush's Office of Budget and Planning as a budget advisor. When Bush was elected president, Perez went to work in the White House, too, as an associate director for domestic policy (2001-02). Of her time as a staffer at the White House, Perez fondly recalls her meeting U2's Bono and her interactions with such notables as Dick and Lynn Cheney, then National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice, and others, in addition of course to George and Laura Bush. Her boss, she says, was Margaret Spellings, later to become Secretary of Education: "She was a good role model. I learned a lot from her. Among other things, I learned how to ask questions, how to extract information, and so on." Future columnist Peggy Noonan once gave a talk to the White House staff. Perez says Noonan advised them to enjoy and savor their encounters with famous and important figures because we might never get these opportunities again. Perez' brush with power and big politics was then followed by similar one-year stints, working as public policy manager for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, as transportation policy specialist for the Automobile Club of Southern California, and director of the Office of the Superintendent-President of Long Beach Community College District. The scenario shifted from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles because she had married her Los Angeles-based fiancée Rudy whom she met while they were summer interns at the White House back in 1995. Her work as associate director for transportation for the city of Los Angeles in the Office of Mayor Villaraigosa was to last four years, from 2005 to 2009. During this time she would give birth to three kids. When she was pregnant with her third, she thought it might be difficult to juggle work and three kids, so Perez said sayonara to the mayor's office five months before she was due. She says she enjoyed immensely the time she spent in the mayor's employ because the staff the mayor surrounded himself with were "all very bright--they were either lawyers or had advanced degrees. It was a very exciting, very inspiring time." It didn't take long for another opportunity to come knocking at the talented native of San Antonio, Texas after she gave birth to her third child. Conscious of her educational background and wide experience, her friends didn't hesitate to recommend her for a part-time position as board assistant to board member Judith Mitchell at South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) headquartered in Diamond Bar. Her association with AQMD is now on its third year. Perez' dad was a federal fire chief in San Antonio, while her mom served as a management analyst for the Department of Defense. They are both natives of San Antonio. Her maternal grandma hailed from Kansas; she is less sure of her paternal grandma's origin. "She may have come from Mexico," she says. Perez' husband has a master's in construction management and works for Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Perez, who ran for the Lakewood City Council last year and lost to winner Jeff Wood, who has since given his endorsement on her college board bid, sees the question of money as the predominant issue facing Cerritos College, money with which to maintain the desired number of classes, money for support services, for counseling, and so on. "That's why it goes without saying that lack of funding will have a huge impact on the education of our students," she says. "The bottom line is, the student needs our help to graduate or transfer to a four-year college or get ready for the workforce." "It is important for residents to research the different candidates, research the issues, and give their input by voting. Cerritos College has a diverse board. The candidates have diverse backgrounds and personalities. I'm excited by the different candidates running different campaigns. The voter should vote for the one who they think offers the best program," she said.

********** Published: October 18, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 27