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Out candidates win, lose East Bay council races

by Matthew S. Bajko

Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen lost his re-election bid Tuesday. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen lost his re-election bid Tuesday. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

A number of gay and lesbian candidates were elected to city council seats throughout the East Bay Tuesday night, while two out incumbent councilmen were ousted from office.

In Contra Costa County gay business leader John Stevens, running a second time for a Martinez City Council seat, was holding on to his lead as of Wednesday morning in his race. He was in first place for the council's District 4 seat with a 25-vote lead over his opponent, Debbie McKillop, who heads Contra Costa County's crime lab.

Believed to have been the first LGBT CEO of a chamber of commerce in Contra Costa County, having led the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, Stevens would be the first out LGBT member of his city's council.

Gay Richmond community leader Cesar Zepeda appears headed for defeat in his second campaign for a seat on the Richmond City Council. He was in fourth place Wednesday morning with close to 10 percent of the vote in the race for three seats on the council.

In 2016, he lost his bid to become the first out gay man elected to his city's council and only its second LGBT member, after lesbian Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who will depart this year and is waiting to see if she will be elected to the state Assembly. A Mexican immigrant, Zepeda has called the East Bay city home since he was 8 years old and is currently a homeowner and neighborhood leader in Richmond's Hilltop district.

Gay El Cerrito City Councilman Gabriel Quinto, currently serving as his city's mayor, easily secured re-election as he and another candidate were the only people to run for the two council seats up this year. He was the top vote-getter as of Wednesday morning with 4,729 votes.

Four years ago Quinto became the first LGBT person to serve on the El Cerrito City Council. His election also marked the first time a person living with HIV had won public office in the Bay Area.

Last December, he became his city's first LGBT and first Filipino mayor; the position rotates among the council members. He is also the first known HIV-positive mayor in the region, and only the second out mayor to serve in Contra Costa County.

In Alameda County, gay United States Navy veteran Shawn Kumagai appears headed to victory in his bid to become the first LGBT person to serve on the Dublin City Council. An instructional design consultant, Kumagai came in second place, with close to 22 percent of the vote, in the race for two council seats, according to the unofficial returns Wednesday morning.

"While there are still some mail-in-ballots to be counted throughout the week," noted Kumagai in a Facebook post, he hailed the fact that with 100 percent of precincts reporting he was holding "the top two spot!"

In the city of Piedmont, gay City Councilman Tim Rood easily won re-election to a second four-year term. It was his first time running as an out candidate; during his previous campaigns for a council seat he was married to the mother of his children. He landed in third place in the four-person contest for three council seats with 30 percent of the vote.

Lesbian Berkeley City Councilwoman Lori Droste easily won re-election to her District 8 seat with 56 percent of the vote. She defeated planning commissioner and attorney Mary Kay Lacey; designer and artist Alfred Twu, who is nonbinary; and green transportation designer Russ Tilleman.

In a message he emailed to supporters, Twu wrote, "Results are in and while I didn't win, we did see important victories for housing in Berkeley," pointing to the passage of two local affordable housing measures and the election of a number of progressives to the city's Rent Board.

The race for the city's District 7 council seat was open due to gay City Councilman Kriss Worthington opting not to seek re-election this year. His pick for a successor, straight candidate Rigel Robinson, won with 55 percent of the vote. Robinson easily defeated lesbian small business owner Cecilia "Ces" Rosales and dog walker Aidan Hill, who is nonbinary.

Gay Alameda City Councilman Jim Oddie, who came out publicly to the Bay Area Reporter in September, was defeated Tuesday. Embroiled in a scandal over the hiring of the city's fire chief, Oddie landed in third place, with close to 19 percent of the vote, in the five-person race for two council seats.

Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillén, who identifies as two spirit, also lost his bid for re-election to his District 2 seat. Targeted by unions and affordable housing advocates, he ended up in second place with 42 percent of the vote behind Nikki Fortunato Bas. She will become Oakland's first Filipina councilwoman.

At his Election Night party Tuesday, Guillen said he was "optimistic." But as the evening wore on, Bas edged ahead and he conceded.

Guillén is one of two out members currently on the Oakland council, along with lesbian at-large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan. Her current term doesn't expire until early 2021.

It appears she will become the lone LGBT member of the council, as neither of the lesbian council candidates won their races Tuesday. Pamela Harris, who also identifies as bisexual, lost to Kaplan's chief of staff, Sheng Thao, in their race for the open District 4 seat covering the Oakland Hills neighborhoods off Highway 13.

Councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington opted not to run for re-election. After her first pick for a successor, Charlie Michelson, dropped out of the race unexpectedly, she threw her support behind Harris. Yet Thao was able to win the seat with close to 54 percent of the vote after six rounds of ranked-choice voting.

Lesbian nurse Maria L. "Marlo" Rodriguez came in last place in the race for the District 6 council seat. Business owner Loren M. Taylor appears to have pulled off an upset by defeating the incumbent, controversial Councilwoman Desley Brooks, after four rounds of ranked-choice voting with close to 62 percent of the vote.

And in the race for the open District 4 Fremont City Council seat, Justin Sha, a gay man who graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law this year, came up short, landing in fourth place with nearly 16 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning.

But Sha appears to have accomplished his goal of ensuring that Yang Shao, currently president of the city's school board, didn't win due to his opposition to LGBT inclusive sex-ed curriculum. As of the B.A.R.'s press time Wednesday, Shao was trailing in second place with 23 percent of the vote to community organizer Robert Daulton, who was in first place with 25 percent of the vote.

Contact the reporter at m.bajko@ebar.com.

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