Johanna Powell and David Rahimian share the same desire–to one day become attorneys help low-income clients deal with a variety of social problems.
The two CSUN students also share the desire to elect the next mayor of Los Angeles, but are, in Los Angeles terms, at opposing ends of the Democratic political perspective.
Powell volunteers for Mayor James Hahn. Rahimian works for his challenger, Los Angeles City Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa.
Powell, a senior political science major and Iowa native, volunteered for the Hahn campaign prior to the primary election in March, and said the experience has changed her.
“(The mayoral primary) was my first election (that I was active in),” Powell said. “I grew up in a conservative state. Hahn was one of the people who helped me (decide to) become a Democrat.”
Powell moved to California from Iowa three years ago and attended the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita before transferring to CSUN this semester. She said she has become enamored with California.
“I love the freedom out here,” Powell said. “The open-mindedness of it. It was even more than I expected. I thought I’d meet a bunch of hippies. But who I met were people who were very passionate about what was going on with their government.”
Powell said people in Iowa care deeply about their government as well, but are primarily Republicans with traditional values. Certain issues were not part of everyday conversation there, she said.
“I didn’t know what I felt about abortion (or) women and (minority issues) until I got to California,” Powell said.
With the exception of her younger sister, Powell’s family members are Republicans who have had to adjust to her newfound political affiliation.
“My mom and I can discuss both points of view and agree to disagree,” Powell said.
Powell belongs to the Democratic Women’s Club of the San Fernando Valley, which has officially endorsed Hahn in the mayoral election.
“(Hahn) concentrates on women’s issues and women’s rights, which (are) important to me,” Powell said.
For the March primary, Powell volunteered to call potential voters from a phone-banking center in Sylmar. She was trained and given scripts to follow, which differed depending on whether or not the respondent was a Hahn supporter.
“It could be difficult at times, because some people were happy with Hahn (and) some weren’t,” Powell said.
Powell has seen Hahn in person during his campaign and said she finds him to be “a powerful speaker.” She was particularly impressed with the one-on-one people skills he displayed at a call-in session in Sylmar.
“(Whenever) we got a caller who said he supported him, (Hahn) would get on the phone and say, ‘This is Mayor Hahn, and I want to thank you for supporting me,'” Powell said.
Powell said she believes Hahn will do a better job than Villaraigosa because Hahn is the incumbent, and Powell thinks he has more experience in local politics.
David Rahimian could not disagree more.
Like Powell, Rahimian, senior political science major, got involved as a volunteer prior to the primary election.
“I saw a man who has a vision, a man who could bring people together,” Rahimian said of Villaraigosa.
In preparation for Tuesday’s runoff, Rahimian has gone from “field volunteer” in the primary election to “field staff,” meaning he is now a paid employee.
The job is a lot harder than he thought it was going to be, Rahimian said.
“Making change is a 24-hour job,” he said.
Rahimian attends CSUN part-time and will graduate this semester. The days he is not attending school, he arrives at campaign headquarters in the San Fernando Valley around 6 a.m. and typically stays until 11 p.m. Today and tomorrow, Election Day, Rahimian said his shift might last 24 hours.
The job can include anything from attending meetings to planting trees, he said.
“Whatever it takes to make our city a better place,” Rahimian said.
Villaraigosa’s experience as the former state assembly speaker and national co-chair of John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid gives him and the city a huge advantage, Rahimian said.
“(Villaraigosa’s) connections go beyond the city (and) the state,” Rahimian said. “He can bring transportation dollars down here (from the state and national legislatures). (He can) revitalize the city in a way we’ve never seen before. This is the man to do it.”
Rahimian said his political science professors at CSUN inspired him to become involved. One day, after practicing law, he would like to teach at the collegiate level, he said.
Rahimian’s family immigrated to the United States after fleeing from Iran in the late 1970s, Rahimian said.
Rahimian was born in Northridge, and said he appreciates the political freedom given in the United States. He said more students should get directly involved in the democratic process.
In this election, that is something both Rahimian and Powell can agree on.
Powell said the best way to learn about an election, campaign or issue is to get involved.
“Before I started working on the campaign, I knew nothing.” Powell said. “Now I feel empowered.”
“Get out and volunteer,” Rahimian said. “Find a candidate you love. This is more than any book or class will teach you. This is a genuine experience.”