We had the good fortune of connecting with Jimmy Biblarz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jimmy, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Launching this campaign, as a 29-year old outsider, is the biggest risk I have ever taken. I don’t come from wealth, don’t have fancy connections in the city, and was by no means a “sure bet” kind of candidate. But we looked at the field, the discourse, and knew that we needed to do this – that the stakes were too high on homelessness and housing to stay on the sidelines. We’ve been guided by that north star since the beginning of the race – the deep belief that our candidacy presents the best shot at there being fewer unhoused people on LA’s streets.
There have been many difficult days. The dark thoughts can seep in – “I could be doing so many other things,” “Is this even worth it,” “Will we ever be able to raise the money we need to mount a successful campaign?” But these moments are vastly outweighed by the moments that confirm we are building something meaningful – the families that share their stories of housing hardship with us, the inroads we’ve made with community groups, the public debates where it’s clear we are leading policy discussions.
Risk is scary. Especially for people who don’t have strong financial safety nets. But sometimes it’s not quite as scary as it seems – risk pushes you to dream bigger, to build your skills, to build trust in your own abilities. I learn something new every single day and will be a better person and thinker no matter what happens in this race. Tl;dr – if there’s something you’ve ever wanted to do, that you know really matters to you, it will be okay no matter the outcome. Reframe failure – winning is doing it, going for it, not the outcome. That philosophy has really kept me motivated day-in, day-out.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I graduated from college and went to work for David Gergen at CNN. I learned so much from David about how to treat people, professionalism, and doing your work to the best of your ability even if no one is going to see it. I loved the job, but I had a real research itch. I wrote my undergrad senior thesis on school segregation in Kentucky and had some research threads I wanted to chase. So, I embarked on a long journey – a JD/PhD in Sociology & Social Policy at Harvard. The seven years of schooling changed my life. I learned to be a data skeptic while still a deep believer in the power of science to inform social policy. I learned to be a fierce advocate for individual clients, while still trying to think structurally about large social problems. Through grad school, I had several jobs – I worked at the LA Public Defender’s Office, Munger, Tolles & Olson, Protect Democracy, and was on the Biden campaign’s voter protection team.
Two main things set me apart, in politics and academia at least. First, policy is usually short-term in its approach. I am a sociologist – we are trained to think structurally about social problem, to interrogate what is actually causing our social ills, and intervene there. My experience in politics thus far has shown me that this is not the norm. Second, academic research is usually isolated – academics publish in journals largely read by other academics. I never liked that – I wanted research findings to inform policy, even if some translation between research findings and implementable law is required. That translation piece suited me and it’s a skillset I bring to politics.
Getting here was by no means easy. I would say the most difficult part was managing student debt. I graduated from college with over $100,000 in student loans, and I’ve worked half a dozen side hustles for seven years to pay down the debt. Graduate school and public service are so often off limits to people who don’t come from high income backgrounds, or who are juggling multiple financial obligations. This must change if we want young people to ever have a shot at getting ahead. We must create cities where everyone can afford to thrive.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh, such a fun question. LA has so many amazing things to offer, so I’m going to narrow it to just to Council District 5, where I’m running. People say LA isn’t a walker’s city, but I beg to differ. We’d walk up and down Pico and Fairfax, exploring LA’s historic Jewish neighborhoods. Kabobs by Faraj and Dr. Sandwich are two favorites. We’d also stroll along Beverly, Melrose, and 3rd, shopping and people watching. I love the little boutique “Okay” just down the street from my apartment. Oh, and Oste on 3rd – the folks who run that place are so kind.
We’d make sure to hit LACMA, the new Academy Awards Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, and the Museum of Tolerance. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is also a favorite, one of the quirkiest and most endearing museums I’ve ever been to. We’d spend a half day exploring UCLA and Westwood, particularly the Persian restaurants up and down Westwood Boulevard. I love Taste of Tehran – the owners are just fabulous. Can’t leave LA without seeing a couple movies – I love the Landmark on Pico and the Westwood Village theater, such a throw-back. Some other great spots to eat and drink: Factor’s, Big Foot West, Requblique, Milk Jar Cookies, and Ministry of Coffee.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m going to have to shoutout Hamilton High School, on Robertson Blvd! I’m a proud K-12 LAUSD alum. The school raised me. It’s where I got my start in political activism, organizing non-unionized classified staff in LAUSD during the Great Recession. I was lucky enough to have teachers that believed in me, supported my interests in politics and public service, and that nurtured me as a closeted gay kid. I think often of one teacher, the late Alan Kaplan, a true titan of public education. He was ahead of his time, teaching us about social justice, income and wealth inequality, and police violence. The school gave me academic and social confidence and set me on the path I’m on now. So grateful for Hamilton and very glad to be on the Board of the alumni association.