Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Online Extra: Political Notes: Former SF resident Torie Osborn seeks state Assembly seat


Assembly candidate Torie Osborn.
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Out lesbian Torie Osborn is drawing on her ties within LGBT circles as she raises money for her bid for a Los Angeles-area state Assembly seat. But the decennial redistricting process could alter the former San Francisco resident's campaign plans.

Osborn, 60, is one of four Democrats already in the running for the state's 41st Assembly District seat. As currently drawn, the district's heart is in Santa Monica, where Osborn has lived for the past 25 years.

It then runs west toward Malibu, eventually heading north along the coast to capture parts of Oxnard. Based on the latest census data, the district is short close to 19,000 residents required for an Assembly district.

Because it carves up Oxnard, a heavily Latino working-class city, there is some expectation that the state's Citizens Redistricting Commission may alter the 41st district map so Oxnard is completely within the confines of another Assembly district.

Doing so would mean that Santa Monica would remain the focal point in the 41st district but it would skew farther east toward parts of Los Angeles and the LGBT enclave of West Hollywood.

"Wouldn't that be fun," said Osborn last week during her first interview with an LGBT newspaper about her campaign. "The commission will be presenting maps in June and we will know then."

What is certain is that due to the state's growing population in the inland areas east of Los Angeles, the LA area is likely to lose up to two Assembly seats. While which ones will be cut is anyone's guess, the decision is sure to upend southern California's political map.

"I can't move west because dolphins and fish don't vote yet; I have to move east. So the district could radically shift, but we don't know that," said Osborn. "Santa Monica is still going to be the heartbeat of the district. I will run in that district; it may not have the name 41st."

As of now the seat should be an open one, as the incumbent, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), will be termed out in 2012. But if the redrawn boundary ends up incorporating the home of an Assembly member from another district not up against term limits, then Osborn said she would drop out of the race.

"The worst case is the district bumps up against an incumbent, then I bow out for a few years until they term out," she said.

To date Osborn is the only declared female and out candidate in the race. Her opponents are Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom; the former mayor of Calabasas Barry Groveman; and Burt Stillar, who lives outside the district in Tarzana but expects his city will be added to it under redistricting.

Well-known within national LGBT circles from her past leadership of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and 10-month stint as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Osborn more recently was a top adviser for three years to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. She currently is a senior director for a progressive agency working on governmental reform in California.

Those connections are already paying dividends for her first attempt at political office. Friends in New York, including AIDS activist and gay playwright Larry Kramer and gay author John Berendt, who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, raised $25,000 for Osborn at a March event.

Among Osborn's California endorsers are former lawmaker Sheila Kuehl, Osborn's former partner and an out lesbian who once held the 41st Assembly District seat before joining the state Senate; gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); lesbian former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg; and gay Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

Kuehl told the Bay Area Reporter that Osborn would be great in the Assembly because she is a bridge builder and creative thinker.

"She can bring people together, pursue an idea and make it understandable and concrete. She listens, she has a lifetime of experience working in social justice movements and is just what the 41st needs," wrote Kuehl in an email. "She's been a leader in economic justice, tax reform, and LGBT issues, she's been a teacher and an executive director. She gets budgets. She's just the best."

Also backing Osborn are her former boss Villaraigosa; Congresswoman Karen Bass, the first woman to be speaker of the state Assembly; and Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel.

"Many people not endorsing until the fall after redistricting. The whole political calendar has been affected by the redistricting," said Osborn, who plans to seek the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's endorsement.

 As of the last campaign filing deadline on March 31, Osborn had raised $128,000. She has set a goal of reaching $250,000 by July 1 and expects to host a fundraiser in San Francisco in late September or early October.

"My goal, frankly, is to raise enough money and early momentum and key endorsements I kind of clear the field a little bit," she said. "I would be very happy if I only have the three opponents I have now."

San Francisco connections

Osborn grew up outside of Philadelphia, graduated from Middlebury College, and moved to Ukiah in northern California in 1977 after landing a job working at former lesbian singer Holly Near's independent label Redwood Records. [Near now identifies as being "monogamous" and is in a relationship with a man.]

The following year she then moved to San Francisco and worked alongside the late gay Supervisor Harvey Milk in defeating the antigay Proposition 6, known as the Briggs initiative, which would have banned openly gay or lesbian people from being schoolteachers.

"It was a formative time," recalled Osborn, who organized a statewide concert tour with Near and other musicians on behalf of the No on 6 campaign. "I say in my stump speech I have my own California dream story. I came for a great job and for the beautiful outdoors. I love beaches and the freedom to be myself."

She moved to the Los Angeles area in 1982 to earn an MBA from UCLA. Then in 1988 she was hired to run LA's LGBT center at the height of the AIDS epidemic and became a national leader in the fight against the deadly disease.

"AIDS made me a health care advocate and a health care reform advocate. That is a key issue I will try to lead on in Sacramento," said Osborn.

She left the center in 1992 and was hired to run the task force back east. Ultimately, she decided she was not right for the position and resigned to return to California. But during her brief tenure Osborn was able to double the national LGBT rights group's membership and tripled its budget.

"It was a learning experience for me. I feel really proud of what I did," said Osborn.

After Villaraigosa won election, he tapped Osborn to be his senior policy adviser on homelessness, poverty and economic development. She also initiated the Mayor's Office of Strategic Partnerships, which focused on joint projects between government and philanthropical groups.

Now she works at California Calls, a network of 27 organizations throughout California committed to common-sense government reforms, including fair tax and budget policy. She started putting her campaign together last fall after thinking "long and hard" about whether she should run.

Wanting to focus on education, the environment and healthcare if she is elected to the Legislature convinced her to jump into the race.

"The issues I care about are decided at the state level," said Osborn.

The race will likely be hard fought, but Kuehl believes Osborn is up to the challenge.

"All campaigns are 'rough' in the sense that you have to bring your best energies and ideas to them and make the case for your candidacy. That said, I think it's clear she's the only candidate for this seat with the experience, the knowledge, and the ability to take the long view on solving the biggest problems of the state," wrote Kuehl.

For more about Osborn's campaign, visit

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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