Erik Garcia loves living in Claremont, especially when it comes to the city’s well-regarded school system.
“I always knew it was a good little city, and I was even more happy that the education part was tops in the area--my son was just going to be born,” he said. “I didn’t have that opportunity where I came from. I want to better my family down the road.”
Erik, 39, grew up in Bell Gardens and has lived in south Claremont for seven years. He moved here with his wife, Francis, two weeks before his son Marcus was born.
He has worked as a physical therapist at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center for the past 13 years. Lately, he has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” he said. “This has been a good opportunity to help in the sense of seeing patients halfway from one day to another.”
But the pandemic has taken its toll. In Erik’s role, he isn’t used to seeing patients die, and he’s had to adjust as COVID devastates communities across the country.
“I told my wife that this is kind of what we’re supposed to be doing--you take everything, the good and the bad,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t want to run and hide from--it’s not in me to run and hide. I always felt if I could help at least one of the patients survive, I’ll feel good about it.”
But still, he recites a prayer before every shift, hoping his patients recover.
The COVID pandemic also allowed Erik to take a closer look at local politics. He saw people gathering at protests calling for schools to reopen, which dismayed him.
“Seeing all the data I get in the hospital, I know how bad it’s gotten in the last couple of months,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable sending my son [to school], I don’t know how serious other parents are taking it.”
Another issue Erik is concerned about is how much money is allocated to the police department in the Claremont budget. He’s called the cops before, and said he’s never had any issues.
But he has listened to calls to defund the police, and never gave it much thought until he looked at the total budget share.
“How much money do they really need allocated to the police department, and is that something that can be used in other parts of the city,” he wondered.
He and his family are also doing their part to help out small businesses in Claremont as they try to survive through a devastating pandemic. He gets takeout as much as he can, and tips high.
These issues were what initially drew Erik to Michael Ceraso’s campaign. He was first impressed at how Mike reached out to him--by phone call.
It was something Erik hadn’t experienced before from someone running for office. “I’ve lived in Claremont for seven years, ain’t nobody ever called me,” he said.
“Mike wasn’t afraid to say, you can ask me whatever you want,’” Erik said. “His concerns are the same as mine, and he wants to change those things. When you take your time to actually call people and do it that way, that shows me that he is honest about it.”
He agrees with Mike’s plan to replace responding police officers with a community program of professionals from the Colleges and nonprofits to reach out to people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness.
“He wants to help, and have the right people in place to help those people instead of just having the cops running them out of town and the next day you see the same people,” he said. “I live next to the Knight’s Inn. When he talked about trying to help that in the right way instead of using only cops, that really kind of drew me to his campaign.”
Growing up in Bell Gardens, a city with rampant corruption, turned Erik off to local politics. Now, he works as the Ceraso campaign’s precinct captain, reaching out to neighbors, phone banking and helping to get the word out. He’s getting back into local politics in a big way.
“I took it as an honor and a chance to really challenge myself to get back into politics,” he said. This is my chance to see what I can learn from this and go from there.”