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Online Extra: Political Notes: With special election set, EQCA endorses in LA Assembly race

by Matthew S. Bajko

Assembly candidate David Vela is one of three gay men<br>running in a special election to be endorsed by Equality California, which is<br>also backing a straight ally in the race. Photo: Vela for Assembly campaign
Assembly candidate David Vela is one of three gay men
running in a special election to be endorsed by Equality California, which is
also backing a straight ally in the race. Photo: Vela for Assembly campaign  

Governor Jerry Brown has set the dates for the special election to fill a vacant Assembly seat in Los Angeles, while Equality California has endorsed three gay candidates and a straight ally in the race.

The primary for the 51st Assembly District special election will be October 3, with the likely runoff set for December 5, Brown announced last Monday, July 24. The news came nearly two weeks after former Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was sworn into his 34th Congressional District seat.

He was elected in June to succeed Xavier Becerra , who was appointed the state's attorney general earlier this year by Brown due to the election last fall of Kamala Harris as California's junior U.S. senator.

Gomez's open Assembly seat has already attracted 10 candidates for the special election. Should no candidate capture more than 50 percent of the vote in October then the top two vote-getters will face off in December.

The winner of the seat would need to seek a full two-year term next year and first run in the June 2018 primary. The top two vote-getters in that race, regardless of party affiliation, would then compete against each other on the November ballot.

Three gay men are vying for the seat: Luis Lopez , David Vela, and Alex de Ocampo. 

Lopez, 44, is a longtime Democratic Party activist who lost his first Assembly bid in 2012 to Gomez, while Vela, 42, is an educator who lost his re-election bid in 2015 to a seat on the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education. Both co-founded the Latino LGBT activist group Honor PAC.

De Ocampo, 37, manages the Saban Family Foundation, created by philanthropist and media executive Haim Saban, and serves as a board member on the California Film Commission and the California State Summer School for the Arts. Gomez presided over his wedding to Todd Sargent, and if elected, de Ocampo would be the first LGBT Filipino state legislator in Sacramento.

Should one of the three gay candidates win the special election, they would become the ninth member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. Their election would mark a record number of out lawmakers serving in the Statehouse. There are currently four out Assembly members and four out state senators.

Last Thursday EQCA, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, endorsed all three of the gay contenders in the race, as well as California Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas, a straight ally who is president of Mission Infrastructure, a project management firm serving government and private sector agencies in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Vargas has a lesbian cousin, Laura Vargas , who was wounded in the 2016 shootings at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He helped shape EQCA's "Safe and Equal" initiative, which saw state lawmakers last year adopt six gun-safety bills.

"We are fortunate to have a large group of candidates in the District 51 race who support LGBTQ equality and social justice," stated EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur. "However, four candidates stood out from the rest of the field, demonstrating a superior and outstanding understanding of the issues and priorities of the LGBTQ community, as well as a more significant history and record of demonstrated commitment to LGBTQ equality and social justice in their public and community activities."

Zbur added that EQCA had "taken the unusual step of endorsing four candidates" because it believes "that they will not only support our legislative priorities, but will provide energetic and cutting-edge leadership as a member of the California Assembly."

Six other Democratic candidates are also seeking the seat. They are community activist Wendy Carrillo, who had also sought the congressional seat; dermatologist Ron Birnbaum; former Obama administration civil rights attorney Gabriel Sandoval, who serves on the state's Voting Modernization Board; Los Angeles Community College District trustee Mike Fong ; and Franky Carrillo , no relation to Wendy Carrillo, who served 20 years in state prison for a murder he didn't commit.

The 51st Assembly District includes the LGBT-friendly neighborhoods of Eagle Rock and Echo Park as well as a portion of Silver Lake, historically one of Los Angeles' LGBT enclaves. It also covers El Sereno, Highland Park, Mount Washington, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, Elysian Valley, Angeleno Heights, Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, Solano Canyon, Historic Filipinotown, City Terrace, unincorporated East L.A., Garvanza, University Hills, Hermon, Montecito Heights, and Monterey Hills.


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail



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