At nearly every opportunity, UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. reminds people that the students and graduates of the Luskin School are meant to change the world.
After graduating from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs with an Urban Planning degree in 2001, Andre Quintero has done precisely that.
It eventually led him to a premier position, serving as mayor of his hometown of El Monte, where he has continued to affect communities positively.
It began while he was still in school as an undergrad studying the city of Monrovia in a government class at UC Riverside. After two years of working on his dual degrees at UCLA – Quintero also has a law degree – he took a year off and went to Sacramento to work on legislative issues.
After time as a worker’s compensation lawyer, he went to work for the City of Los Angeles as a deputy criminal attorney.
“I found a place where I could make a difference, especially as a neighborhood prosecutor,” he says.
Not long after leaving UCLA Luskin, Quintero was elected to the Rio Hondo Community College board of directors and one of his first responsibilities was to create a master plan.
“For me, it was very exciting,” he said. “During the day I got to be a lawyer and at night I got to do planner work.”
In 2000, Rio Hondo was identified as one of the worst transfer schools in the state, Quintero took on the challenge of turning his hometown’s community college around.
His work in his own community, cleaning up Rio Hondo, helped push him towards running for Mayor in 2009.
“I ran against an incumbent who had been in and out of office for 27 years,” Quintero said.
Fortunately for Quintero, the residents of El Monte were tired with the status quo giving Quintero 68 percent of the vote. He was 34 years old.
“I was asked about bringing fiscal restraint and change and I ran,” he said. “I became the youngest mayor the city had had in 30 or 40 years. It was a little different for some folks to now see this person they had known for a long time. Some knew me since seventh grade.”
The first two years, Quintero tried to change the culture of the city, working to weed out the old guard and breathe fresh life into an area that had been mismanaged.
“There was a certain amount of influence that a small cadre of individuals had and it was not healthy,” Quintero said. “One of the great things I learned at Rio Hondo was they have to go through the process of accreditation. It was a great opportunity to be evaluated and see the effectiveness of evaluations and these programs.
“There is no such thing as that for the cities. The accountability comes at the city level through the City Council."
Quintero wanted that accountability in place. The foundation he was building allowed him to get re-elected and things have continued changing.
El Monte has become a transportation hub for the entire San Gabriel Valley. LA Metro invested $65 million in the city during Quintero’s tenure, and it now hosts the largest bus terminal west of Chicago. He hopes to attract businesses to El Monte after a researcher found that nearly $100 million was leaving the city in retail sales. He also aims to build more parks.
“We took a look at our city and we saw a possibility,” he said. “The potential is there for something spectacular.”
Quintero knows he has made change in El Monte but there is a long way to go. It took nearly eight years as a board member to make Rio Hondo College a destination that now has partnerships with several four-year colleges where transfer students are guaranteed admission if they reach certain requirements.
He just wants to remain in office to see his ideas and changes come to fruition. However, he knows that his results are ultimately in the hands of the residents he represents.
“As I would tell anybody, I’m living my dream,” Quintero said. “I don’t know how long I will get the chance to serve my community, that's up to the voters, but I am absolutely living my dream.”
His goal is to leave everything in a better place for his four-year old daughter, Emma. Quintero’s wife Deborah, a teacher at Redlands East Valley High School, is also a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning graduate.
“We have a lot more work to do,” he says, “and I believe we have the right team in place. We are going to make something special happen.”