Shirley Huling is no stranger to Long Beach politics. One of multiple campaigns she worked on after graduating from Cal State Sacramento was former Mayor Ernie Kell’s bid for re-election.
But it wasn’t until she graduated from the Neighborhood Leadership Program, a free months-long program offered by the city for grassroots residents, that Huling considered running for the 1st District seat on the City Council.
“All of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m having an impact’,” the 59-year-old said about the issues she has helped tackle by partnering with neighbors.
Born in New Mexico, Huling and her family later moved to a farming community in Stockton, where they regularly marched for world peace and honored Cesar Chavez’s ban on green grapes. Not until a few years ago did Huling bring herself to eat green grapes again.
After graduating from high school, Huling joined the U.S. Navy for two reasons: to travel abroad and graduate from college debt-free.
Huling said the experiences she gained while living in Puerto Rico and Italy became so valuable that she now hopes studying abroad becomes mandatory for students in America in order to broaden their horizons. So should dual immersion programs.
Many of Huling’s ideas for a better Long Beach—where she has lived since 2005—stem from her role as an active single mother and teacher to her son—including as a board member on the since shuttered New City charter school and the newly created Viva Homeschool Learning Space.
Providing conceptual ideas more than concrete plans, Huling says she hopes to build community through access, be it access to good food, schools or park programming.
That access would also look like the city placing clean, secured showers at different places around town, similar to what the city’s Multi-Service Center provides to those experiencing homelessness.
It would look like housing for all income levels in the same space.
“Look what’s been happening, they have money for the homeless and they haven’t done crap,” a frustrated Huling said about elected leaders.
Huling also hopes to provide access to constituents by holding meetings in different neighborhoods and in different languages to hear their concerns and “get a pulse of what’s happening.”
“I don’t want people to feel like they are sheep and just being directed,” Huling said.
Huling is mostly self-funding her grassroots campaign, meaning that with no endorsements or huge monetary contributions to pay for mailers, her message may not be far-reaching and a win come Nov. 5 unlikely.
While endorsements aren’t known to have huge effects on the outcomes of local elections, she’s also not a business owner, lawyer or educator—professions most likely to win political seats, according to Cal State Los Angeles political science professor Aldo Yanez-Ruiz.
“It is well known that candidates from what would be considered blue-collar jobs are less likely to win and are underrepresented at all levels of government,” Yanez-Ruiz said.
But Huling does have supporters, and in a race like this one where some have questioned whether the presumed frontrunner will go along with the local “Establishment,” Huling has proven she can be an independent voice.
“Shirley is a very positive person, very creative and has different ideas that she brings and we actually value,” said David Anderson, who is the president of the Board of Directors of Viva.
Anderson recalled a time—before Huling even joined the Viva board—when Huling disagreed with a board decision to terminate a teacher, believing that the individual could be used in a different capacity instead.
It turns out the children also missed the instructor, especially the sports activities that he did so well. The board finally agreed to bring the person back in a different capacity.
“She felt like there was another option other than just letting him go completely,” Anderson said. “I’ll just never forget that. She saw something in him that we didn’t see.”
Huling acknowledges that a win may be difficult, but is willing to march on: “Whether I win or I don’t win, I think the status quo is all we keep seeing from a local level all the way up to a federal level and I’m over it.”