Over 30 people gathered Thursday in the Alumni House Boardroom to discuss the nature of governance, policy and leadership. The conversation, a “Lunch with a Leader” event hosted by the Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, was led by guest speaker Karina Macias, who fielded questions from USC students, faculty and alumni.
Not only is Macias a member of the Huntington City Council, but she was also the youngest elected mayor in the history of the city in 2014.
Macias, who grew up in Huntington Park, Calif., explained that back in high school she was often called a “good troublemaker,” as her early interest in public policy encouraged her to get involved in political events like immigration reform rallies and anti-war movements.
Later on, after having obtained her bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from Mount St. Mary’s University, Macias spent some time observing policies enacted in Washington, D.C., as well as in El Salvador and Honduras. Her travels enabled her to gain insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of local and international politics.
Coming back to Huntington Park, Macias became committed to attending council meetings. She would often try to address issues that went unnoticed by the governing body.
Macias said she often felt like “an outsider” who tried to draw attention to the problems the council was not focusing on by “listening to the community and their interests.” She felt responsible for giving a voice to those whose voices went unheard.
Through her grassroots campaign, Macias tried to let the public know that, as a woman raised by immigrant parents, she was prepared to do her best to improve the well-being of the community.
“I went to individual houses and explained to the people who I am and how I will make sure to come back and thank them for their vote,” Macias said.
Macias said she realized that no amount of resources in the world could guarantee a political victory. Instead, she sincerely believes in the significance of having one’s heart act as the driving force behind any cause.
Those who attended the lunch asked questions about immigration, affordable housing and the public school system. Macias, in turn, described the difficulties she faced handling controversial topics as mayor of Huntington Park.
“It felt like sometimes the council meetings became debates about immigration reforms,” Macias said.
When asked about how the council handled the media, Macias stressed the significance of running a transparent platform. One of her most important goals as mayor was to repair public trust in government officials.
In response to a student asking how to prepare for a career in public service, Macias explained the significance of taking issues into her own hands — sometimes literally — and actually interact with the community.
“The public might have to see you cleaning up that alley,” Macias said.