When asked why she is stepping into the ring now, Blake was emphatic: “I’m running for Congress because for too long, our community hasn’t had a seat at the table and a stake in decisions made about our livelihoods. For too long, equity and justice have taken a backseat to the powerful special interests, I’m running to change that.”
Story and photos by Angela de Joseph
March 28, 2019 (San Diego) - Democrat Aeiramique Glass Blake, a restorative justice consultant and community advocate, announced her 2020 candidacy for United States Congress (CA-51) January 17th on what would have been her mother’s 51st birthday. The announcement date and Blake’s decision to challenge the four-time incumbent, Rep. Juan Vargas, in the Democratic primary are no coincidence. It was Blake’s mother who encouraged her to run for Congress, she was just waiting for the right time.
Blake is a well-known community activist who has “put her body on the line.” She was arrested twice last year once after camping out in a tent in front of city hall for a week to protest the criminalization of homeless people and after binding herself to a fence outside of the Otay Mesa detention center to protest family separations at the border. She also founded the powerful student-led organization, Generation Justice, to prepare and encourage leadership and civic responsibility in our youth. In East County, she also led a protest at Helix High School over a La Mesa Police officer’s controversial take-down of a handcuffed female student, an incident caught on video that went viral on social media.
Campaign finance transparency and criminal justice reform are at the center of her platform. Blake takes issue with Rep. Vargas over his large campaign donations and questionable contributions from a private prison firm. According to the Center for Responsive Politics website, OpenSecrets.org, Vargas received 77% of his donations during the 2017-2018 election cycle from PACs, 21% from large donors and less than 1% from small donors.
“Public servants that take money from the very entities that devastate our communities don’t represent us.” Blake repeats this mantra as she vows not to take a penny of donations from PACs and will refuse donations from “Big Pharma” and private prison businesses. Blake makes it clear: “This campaign is funded by the people and is for the people.”
Vargas has maintained a solid base of support in his four terms representing the 51st District in Congress, which includes the southern border area of San Diego east through Imperial County. He has also amassed a stockpile of political capital and a well-oiled campaign machine after a decades-long career in government, beginning in San Diego City Council’s 8th district, then the California Assembly (79th district) and as a State Senator (40th district) before winning his seat in Congress. Blake does not see herself as an underdog, but rather a champion for the people in the 51st district who have gone overlooked.
Did the 2018 Democratic primary wins of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass), two newcomers who defeated incumbents, set the stage for Aeiramique Glass Blake to swoop in and topple Vargas?
Well, not if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) manages to thwart her. On Friday, March 22, the DCCC sent an announcement to over 100 political firms that it will not hire any private political vendors who provide services to Democratic primary challengers, and it will also discourage individual House Democrats from hiring them. Needless to say, this did not go over well.
Blake, like other Democrats challenging incumbents and political consulting firms, took to social media to voice their anger at what they see as a strong-arm tactic that amounts to a blacklisting of firms by the DCCC. She tweeted directly to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairwoman, “@CheriBustos your job as head of the @dccc is to make our party stronger and keep our majority. How does preventing primaries in deep blue districts make our party stronger or help keep the majority?”
So far the DCCC is holding firm on the new policy. Blake sees this as evidence that it is time for more progressive Democrats to run for office. Her official campaign launch event was held on a Sunday afternoon at Bread & Salt in the Barrio Logan area of San Diego. Over one hundred community members were on hand for the festivities and to show Aeiramique Glass Blake or Meeka as her friends call her, support for her run for Congress. Speakers included; Councilmember Monica Montgomery who referred to her as, “A little sister,” former candidate for Sheriff, Dave Meyers and Mahamed Abdulahi one of her Generation Justice mentees. Stay tuned.