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Trailblazing LA Politician Gloria Molina Dies at 74


Gloria Molina, a transformational figure who was part of the Los Angeles political landscape for decades, died Sunday at age 74 after a three-year battle with cancer, her family said.

The activist-turned-trailblazing politician who served on the Los Angeles City Council, county Board of Supervisors and in the State Assembly was 74 years old.

Molina served on the Board of Supervisors for 23 years, from 1991 to 2014, representing a district that included Koreatown, Pico-Union, East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Earlier this year, the Board renamed Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles Gloria Molina Grand Park.

Molina’s family released a statement announcing her death.

“It is with heavy hearts that our family announces Gloria’s passing this evening,” said Molina’s daughter in a statement on the family’s behalf. “She passed away at her home in Mt. Washington, surrounded by our family.”

Molina had been battling terminal cancer for the past three years, according to the statement.

“She faced this fight with the same courage and resilience she lived her life. Over the last few weeks, Gloria was uplifted by the love and support of our family, community, friends, and colleagues. Gloria expressed deep gratitude for the life she lived and the opportunity to serve our community.”

The statement said that for the family, Molina will be “remembered in our hearts as our loving mom and grandmother, protective oldest sister, wise tía and loyal friend. We will miss celebrating with her on Christmas Eve, hosted at her home decked out in a new theme for the holidays and nourished with handmade tamales and a holiday feast with all the trimmings.”

The statement described her as “the strong and selfless matriarch of our family.”

La Plaza De Cultura y Artes announced plans for a public celebration of life July 8 at the arts and culture center.

She revealed her health battle in a Facebook post on March 14.

“You should know that I’m not sad,” she wrote. “I enter this transition in life feeling so fortunate. I have an amazing and caring family, wonderful friends, and worked with committed colleagues and a loyal team.”

Molina was first elected to public office in 1982, when she won the 56th Assembly District seat. She led a fight to quash a proposed prison in East Los Angeles.

Molina won the City Council’s First District seat in 1987.

She was elected to the Board of Supervisors from the county’s First District in 1991, becoming the first woman elected to the board. The body was once known as the “Five Little Kings.” Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, was the first woman to serve on the board.

Known as a sharp fiscal watchdog, Molina served as a supervisor until 2014, forced out by term limits enacted in 2002.

Molina also worked as a deputy for presidential personnel in the Jimmy Carter White House.

Tributes began pouring in Sunday night.

Mayor Karen Bass called Molina a “force for unapologetic good and transformational change.”

Cardinal Roger Mahoney reflected on some of Molina’s accomplishments, saying, “She was fearless in confronting institutional injustice such as the infamous Exide battery complex in East Los Angeles. She continued to point out that companies would readily build dangerous plants and factories in the poorest neighborhoods because they thought those communities lacked the political influence to object. Gloria Molina proved them wrong over her long political career which always focused on the most underserved members of our society.”

Mahoney added that Molina was influential in the ultimate location of the new cathedral.

“I am particularly grateful to her and her staff for advising me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that the large County parcel on Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street would be an ideal site for our new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.  Without her outreach to me and her continued work with our team from 1995 forward our new Cathedral would never have become a reality.”

L.A. City Councilmember Tim McOsker said the date of Molina’s passing was important. “It’s deeply moving that on Mother’s Day, the mother of the Los Angeles Latina political movement has passed … Molina was not only a trailblazer, but she held the door open for other Latinas in government to walk through.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn issued a statement saying,

“It takes an enormous amount of courage to be the first woman in the room and Gloria was the first woman and first Latina in nearly every room she was in across her career. She didn’t just make space for herself — she opened the door to the rest of us. Women in politics, particularly in Los Angeles County, owe a great debt of gratitude to Gloria Molina.”

The Weingart Foundation, a private grantmaking foundation that partners with communities across Southern California to advance racial justice, released a statement saying, “Today, we join all Angelenos in mourning the loss of a tremendous pioneering leader … she not only opened doors for others to follow, she transformed lives.”

The Committee for Greater LA, a cross-sectoral group of civic leaders working to advance system changes and dismantle institutional racism, also released statement from committee Chair Miguel A. Santana, who said they mourn “the loss of a trailblazer and community champion.”

“No matter how challenging the path, Supervisor Molina never backed down from doing what was right and most impactful for the community. Time and again, she exemplified what it means to put community first.”

The statement said she “fought for marginalized communities so that they could have their fair share of basic services after years of disinvestment and neglect.”

An obituary was issued by LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, describing Molina as “a champion for social justice,” who “dedicated her life to public service, fighting tirelessly for those who were underrepresented.”   

The obituary continued:

“Gloria will be remembered in history as the first Latina elected as California State Assemblymember, Los Angeles City Councilmember and Los Angeles County Supervisor.  She made a significant impact on Los Angeles, the state, county and the nation over her 32-year career in elected office.”

The statement added that Molina was committed to creating public spaces Angelenos throughout the county, including for families. 

Molina, according to the obituary, is survived by her husband, Ron Martinez, daughter Valentina Martinez, son-in-law Brendan Curran, grandson Santiago, as well as nine siblings: Gracie, Irma, Domingo, Bertha, Mario, Sergio, Danny, Olga and Lisa.

“In lieu of flowers,” according to the obit, “Gloria’s family requests that donations be made to Casa 0101 and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in her memory to inspire and empower future generations through the arts.”

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