Political Notebook: Bi councilman Coleman enters Assembly race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday December 7, 2021
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South San Francisco City Councilmember James Coleman is running for a state Assembly seat. Photo: Morgan McCarthy
South San Francisco City Councilmember James Coleman is running for a state Assembly seat. Photo: Morgan McCarthy

A year after winning a seat on the South San Francisco City Council, James Coleman is now setting his electoral sights on serving in the state Legislature. He is one of at least three bisexual people seeking seats in the California Assembly in 2022.

Coleman is running for the open 22nd Assembly District seat on the Peninsula being vacated by Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), who is running for an open House seat next year. At age 22, Coleman is the youngest person serving on his hometown's city council and its first out LGBTQ member.

He is biracial, as his late father was white and his mother is Asian. While finishing his last year at Harvard, Coleman waged his successful council campaign to defeat Richard Garbarino, who has spent 18 years on the City Council and was serving as South San Francisco's mayor in 2020.

"I was born and raised here in San Mateo County. My father was a FedEx worker. My mom is a Taiwanese immigrant who worked as a lab assistant at Kaiser. Growing up working class profoundly shaped my values," stated Coleman. "I'm running to represent our communities in Sacramento because our government can't just work for the wealthy and well connected, it has to work for everyone."

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter December 7, Coleman said he opted to seek the Assembly seat in order to be able to address many of the issues impacting his city on a statewide manner, such as the need for affordable health care and housing.

"I will be able to address many of those needs faster and in a more urgent manner in Sacramento," said Coleman, who graduated college in May and has focused his time since then on his council work and advocacy in the community.

With his Assembly candidacy, Coleman is following in the footsteps of fellow progressive Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose), 26, who was elected last year as the first out bisexual to serve in the Legislature and as its youngest member since 1938.

Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege, 35, is aiming to become the first bisexual woman in the Legislature with her bid for the 42nd Assembly District seat next year. In addition to having already endorsed Holstege, Lee was one of two elected leaders expressing their support for Coleman's Assembly bid in his campaign announcement released December 7.

"James is exactly the sort of leadership San Mateo County needs in the state Assembly," stated Lee, who is running for a second term next year. "His independence from corporate special interests will enable him to advocate for needed policies for workers, for affordable housing, and the environment. I currently have the title of youngest legislator but would be thrilled to see James take the record when elected in 2022."

Pacifica Councilmember Mary Bier called Coleman "a powerful example for all of our young people in San Mateo County. Perseverance, strength and willingness to lead only begin to describe his qualities as an elected official. His work speaks for itself."

He is the second person to formally enter the Assembly race. The first was San Mateo City Councilmember Diane Papan, whose sister Gina had earlier sought to be elected to represent the district in Sacramento. Their father, the late Assemblymember Lou Papan, had held the seat in the 1970s and 1980s.

Elected to his city's newly drawn District 4 council seat, Coleman was part of a wave of young queer progressives elected last year to various political positions around the Bay Area. He is rejecting all campaign contributions from private developers, fossil fuel companies, and major corporations in his Assembly race.

In kicking off his legislative bid, Coleman pledged his focus would be on advocating for the needs of working class families like his own. He announced that his platform includes a wealth tax on billionaires and corporations, universal child care and preschool, truly affordable housing, Medicare for All, reproductive justice for all, and aggressive action to address the worsening effects of climate change.

He pointed to his leading as a councilperson the implementation of a Guaranteed Income pilot program providing $500 per month for 12 months to over 160 South San Francisco families in need. He also noted that he fought for the passage of a $5 Hazard Pay ordinance for local essential grocery and drugstore workers, which was the first to be adopted in San Mateo County.

"It's our generation that will bear the brunt of these impacts — we need bold action now," stated Coleman.

With the redistricting of state legislative district boundaries currently underway and set to be finalized in January, the Assembly district is expected to include portions of Brisbane, South San Francisco; San Bruno; Millbrae; Burlingame; Hillsborough; San Mateo; Foster City; Belmont; the Redwood Shores neighborhood of Redwood City; central and downtown Redwood City; North Fair Oaks, and East Palo Alto. It is also set to include the coastal communities of Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, and Moss Beach.

"It is really important we have another progressive who takes Kevin Mullin's seat. He has been a pretty reliable and progressive voice in the Assembly," said Coleman.

It will be an open seat due to Mullin's decision not to seek reelection next year and instead run to succeed Congressmember Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo/San Francisco). She announced last month that she would depart Washington, D.C. at the end of her current term, setting up a scramble among San Mateo County elected leaders to succeed her on Capitol Hill in 2023.

As the B.A.R.'s online Political Notes column reported December 6, Mullin has endorsements from a number of his legislative colleagues. In addition to Lee, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) are also backing Mullin in the House race.

Due to his being a member of the Reach Coalition, a group of elected officials of color in San Mateo County, Coleman will be deciding whom to support in the House race via the coalition's endorsement process.

Mullin, 51, had served as Speier's district director when she served in the state Senate in Sacramento and was an aide to her in the state Assembly. His former boss on Monday endorsed him to succeed her in Congress on the steps of the South San Francisco City Hall.

"I enthusiastically and unequivocally announce my endorsement of Kevin Mullin to replace me in the House of Representatives," said Speier. "And let me tell you why. Experience matters. Collegiality matters. Progressive values matter. Delivering matters. Having been a legislator prepares you to hit the ground running. I know because I was in the legislature 18 years before coming to congress. Kevin is the only candidate with legislative experience and a proven track record of bringing the bacon home to the district."

Her endorsement of Mullin is seen as a major boost for his candidacy. Also seeking the open House seat is San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David J. Canepa. Of Mexican and Italian heritage, he also grew up in San Mateo County and served on the Daly City council.

Last week, Burlingame City Councilmember Emily Beach also officially launched her campaign for Speier's House seat. She first moved to Burlingame with her family in 2008 and won election to her council seat in 2015.

Also in the race is Gus Mattammal, a small businessman and Republican who lives on the coast near Half Moon Bay. It is likely more local leaders will jump into the race in the coming weeks.

For both the House and Assembly contests, the top two vote-getters of each race in the primary election next June will compete in the November general election.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Mullin's LGBTQ colleagues endorsing his congressional bid.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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