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Lesbian East Bay Assembly candidate headed to fall ballot

by Matthew S. Bajko

Jovanka Beckles will compete in November for the 15th Assembly District race. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Jovanka Beckles will compete in November for the 15th Assembly District race. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland   

The electoral pendulum has swung back to favor lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles in the race for the open 15th Assembly District seat, which stretches from Richmond south into parts of Oakland.

After Contra Costa County elections officials updated their vote count in the June 5 Primary race Wednesday night, Beckles had reclaimed second place in the race by 295 votes, with Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb falling back down to third.

With Alameda County elections officials finished counting ballots while 10,000 ballots remain in Contra Costa, East Bay political watchers are calling the race for Beckles. Under the state's "jungle primary" system, the top two vote-getters in the primary will compete against each other in the November 6 general election.

Former Obama staffer Buffy Wicks continues to have a dominating lead with 36,551 votes, or 31.6 percent of the total. Beckles now stands at 15.7 percent, or 18,132 votes, while Kalb has 17,837 votes, or 15.4 percent of the total.

Asked by the Bay Area Reporter if Beckles was ready to claim victory, her campaign said Wednesday afternoon that it would not be issuing a statement "at this time." Sunday evening her campaign had said she remained hopeful that she would hold on to second place.

Thursday morning Beckles had begun thanking people via Twitter who were congratulating her on her apparent victory in the primary and retweeting posts calling the race for her.

On her Twitter account Monday morning, Beckles had quoted the Yogi Berra quip, "It ain't over till it's over." She added that, "The count is see-sawing back and forth, folks. We're watching things closely."

Last Friday Beckles had catapulted over Kalb after being stuck in third place since Election Day. But come Monday morning, she had fallen back to third place and continued to trail Kalb until yesterday evening.

Should she maintain her lead, Beckles will be vying in November to become the first out LGBT state legislator from the East Bay. She would also become the first out African-American woman - born in Panama, Beckles is both black and Latina - and LGBT immigrant elected to California's Legislature.

The current officeholder, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state superintendent of public instruction.

The 15th Assembly District contest was the only competitive state legislative race in the Bay Area with out candidates. Judy Appel, a lesbian who sits on the Berkeley school board and bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz both came up short in their bids to represent the district.


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