Meet Antonio López, the 26-year-old Stanford Ph.D. student running for city council

Antonio López handing campaign materials to a resident of East Palo Alto. (Photo courtesy of Antonio López)

By Sam Catania on September 20, 2020 in The Stanford Daily

50. That’s how many doors Antonio López Ph.D. ’25 and his campaign team of high school students knock on every Tuesday evening. The 26-year-old first-year Modern Thought and Literature Ph.D. student was out on the nightly campaign trail when The Daily called.

“Hey can I call you back? I’m just about to head home,” he said excitedly.

López and his team spend about two hours each weekday evening meeting with the residents of East Palo Alto, a strategy López hopes will help him connect with voters and ultimately win the election for East Palo Alto City Council.

“A lot of folks are telling us it’s the first time any candidate has ever knocked on their door,” López said.

There are seven contenders in the race vying for three seats on the council. Three of the contenders — Lisa Gauthier, Lary Moody and Carlos Romero — are incumbents. 

López said that he’s focusing his campaign on generational change within City Council.

“This council needs young folks, we need fresh faces… we need a candidate that looks like the generation that’s rising up,” he said. López said this ideology is why he’s brought on young people to work as staffers. All of the current members of East Palo Alto’s council are at least in their 40s according to Whitepages, with the oldest member being 71.

Asked why he decided to enter the race, he said, “I didn’t have any political ambition. I didn’t have any sort of desire to run for office.” López, who was born and raised in East Palo Alto and grew up in a low-income household, said he grew tired of seeing his community struggle.

Adolfo Vargas, one of López’s 16-year-old staffers, said he was never interested in politics until he started working on Lopez’s campaign. He said he thinks their work is “starting a movement” and that it was “inspiring” to be a part of it.

“Ever since I met him, I looked up to him,” Vargas said. “He gives me life advice, he’s been helping me out with school… I’ve been looking for a mentor like him to guide me.”

18-year-old staffer and López’s cousin Francisco López told The Daily he’s excited about López’s plans to offer programs and internships to high school students. “I had to struggle so much just to get into a CSU,” he said. “I really wish I had that offered to me growing up.”

López and some of his youth campaign staffers. (Photo courtesy of Antonio López).

Francisco said he felt that very little has changed on the city council since he was a young child. 

López indicated that he thought the current council had done a “pretty good job” but needed “fresh faces” to bring perspectives that are “truly representative.” He suggested that with new development coming into East Palo Alto, the city should be able to “take care of our most needy citizens.”

“You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t afford the shoelaces,” he said. “We have families here that have done all the right things… they have two jobs… they have tried everything to make sure they can provide for their family… we need a safety net for our community.”

Asked why he chose his campaign slogan — “A Bridge for Success” — López said he wants his campaign to be all about “connecting two sides.” He said that includes empowering youth, but also connecting the city’s Latino and Black communities.

The campaign t-shirt Lopez and his staff members often wear when knocking on doors in East Palo Alto. (Photo courtesy of Antonio López).

“There is this… anxiety around the increasing Latino population in East Palo Alto and vice versa. We have historic rampant anti-Blackness in the Latino community and I’m very much someone who is adamant … to really bridge those communities,” he said.

Also key to López’s platform are his plans to enforce more strict parking regulations, getting cars off of sidewalks and his support of “the development of a new library in East Palo Alto,” according to his website.

López also addressed doubts that he is the right man for the job.

“It’s absolutely fair to say ‘Look, I have no formal experience,’” he told The Daily. “People can trust me [because] … even though I don’t have formal political experience, if you look at the work I have done in terms of nonprofits and in terms of the University, I have always advocated for marginalized communities.”

López said one of his “proudest accomplishments” was organizing a program aiming to “energize” disadvantaged students to go to college.

“The future starts with the youth,” he said. “The work I have done has always been to promote that.”

López’s mother, Luisa Méndez, said that López has always been focused on change even when she and others were willing to let things go. Méndez said she used to say, “It’s ok. The world is like that,” only to get a response of “No mom, don’t think like that. We can change it.”

“If the front door closes, he opens a window,” she said.

López’s father, also Antonio López, spoke to his son’s ability to connect with people.

“Everywhere he goes, he makes a lot of friends,” said López’s father, who described his son as a patient listener. “I never raised my voice because I didn’t need to [when he was growing up],” López’s father said.

Another campaign staffer, 17-year-old René Alemán, echoed the sentiment.

“He can make conversation and connect with anybody,” Alemán said. “When we go knocking door to door … you know, you run into different races, different ages, different sexes and he’s still able to build a connection with everybody.”

Alemán said that he thinks this skill makes López the ideal man for the job.

“We’re a small city … but we’re divided,” he said. “The fact that he’s trying to connect us and has the ability to connect us is what makes him the perfect candidate.”

Contact Sam Catania at samcat ‘at’

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