Lesbian transit leader Beckles ahead in East Bay Senate race

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 13, 2024
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Jovanka Beckles has moved into second place in the race for an East Bay state Senate seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Jovanka Beckles has moved into second place in the race for an East Bay state Senate seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

As lesbian former Richmond city councilmember Jovanka Beckles leapfrogs into second place in her bid for an open East Bay state Senate race, two gay former councilmembers of Northern California cities saw their leads on election night evaporate as more ballots were counted.

Michael Wilson, who had served on the Vallejo City Council, has now lost his bid to become the first LGBTQ member of the Solano County Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile, gay former Sacramento city councilmember Steve Hansen has fallen into fourth place in the race to be his city's next mayor.

Coming out of the March 5 primary Beckles, now on the board that oversees the AC Transit public transportation agency, had landed in fourth place with 14% of the vote. She had remained out of the top two spots moving on to the November election after repeated updates to the vote count.

That is until Monday, when new totals from Alameda County put Beckles into second place with 15.8% of the vote. Her total now stands at 19,691 votes.

Trailing her in third place by 210 votes is Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb. His share of the ballots counted to date stands at 15.6%.

They are both competing for the Senate District 7 seat that spans Alameda and Contra Costa counties. With Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) termed out later this year, six people had sought the seat.

Back in 2018 when Kalb and Beckles both ran for an open Assembly seat, a similar vote count dynamic had played out. Initially leading Beckles, Kalb dropped into third place in the primary, though Beckles went on to lose against Buffy Wicks, expected to easily win a fourth two-year term this November.

In an email to her supporters last Friday, Beckles expressed confidence that she would survive the primary. But she acknowledged the financial resources deficit she will face in mounting a general election bid.

"While we wait for the results, we need to continue to prepare for a difficult fight against an opponent with enormous financial resources," wrote Beckles. "We need your help paying our outstanding bills, buying more lawn signs, paying for campaign staff, and much more. We are depending on your help to keep our campaign competitive all the way through to November."

While it is unclear how many ballots remain in Alameda County, an updated vote tally from Contra Costa, which has 44,500 outstanding ballots, is expected by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Nonetheless, first-place finisher Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín celebrated his moving on to the fall ballot in an email to his supporters Tuesday morning.

"While there are still thousands of votes that remain to be counted, we are currently leading the field with 33 percent of the vote, and have earned more votes than the current second and third place finishers combined!" touted Arreguín. "Thank you so much to everyone who made this incredible victory possible."

As for union leader Kathryn Lybarger, who like Beckles identifies as queer and lesbian, she is in fourth place with 14.2% of the vote. While not surprising for a first-time candidate running against elected leaders, it comes as a shocking development considering Lybarger was predicted to make it to November due to the fiscal backing she had received from labor groups.

Should Beckles hold on to second place, then voters in Contra Costa County will have a chance to elect three Senate candidates to be their first out representatives in the Legislature. But like Beckles, San Ramon City Councilmember Marisol Rubio will be seen as the underdog in her fall race.

Rubio, a gender-nonconforming, demisexual, biromantic, is one of two people seeking to succeed termed out Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) from his District 9 seat that covers much of Contra Costa County and a portion of southern Alameda County. Rubio landed in second place in the primary against Assemblymember Tim Grayson (D-Concord), who currently leads with 61.6% of the vote.

Also moving on to November is gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon, who is vying for the open Senate District 3 seat. Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) is termed out of representing the sprawling district that includes portions of Contra Costa, Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties in the Bay Area as well as Yolo and Sacramento counties.

Cabaldon is in second place with 26.6% of the vote. In first place with 28.1% is Dixon City Councilmember Thom Bogue, a Republican who survived the Jonestown massacre when he was a teenager.

After it became clear the two would be moving on to the November 5 ballot last Friday, Cabaldon celebrated his surviving the primary race in an emailed note to his supporters.

"I'm thrilled to report that we earned exceptionally broad support—the only candidate to place in the top 3 in everyone of the district's six counties. We won outright majorities among the Democratic candidates in half the counties and led the Democratic field in the two most-populous counties," wrote Cabaldon.

In Solano County where no LGBTQ person has served on the Board of Supervisors, Wilson had been leading on election night with 51% of the vote in the race for the open District 1 Supervisor seat. He sought to succeed his boss, District 1 Supervisor Erin Hannigan, who had endorsed him.

But Vallejo Housing and Community Development Commission Vice Chair Cassandra James saw her vote count increase with each subsequent update. By last Friday she had garnered 53% of the vote and remained in first place thereafter.

The San Francisco native declared victory Tuesday.

"I also want to commend Michael Wilson for running an honorable campaign. I appreciated his gracious concession call and offer to help me transition into this role, and I appreciate his long service to our community," wrote James in an email to her supporters. "I want everyone who voted for and supported Michael to know that I'm proud to represent them too. Greater Vallejo needs to be united as we work to bring out the best of this community."

Up in Sacramento Hansen has seen his hold on second place after election night slip away as more votes are counted. As of Tuesday, he had fallen into fourth place with a total of 15,103 votes.

Nonetheless, he remains in a statistical dead heat, at 22% of the vote, for second place. Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) stands in third place with 15,266 votes.

Dr. Richard Pan, a former state senator, has slipped into second place with 15,421 votes. Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dr. Flojaune Cofer has catapulted from fourth place on election night into first place with 17,547 votes or 25% of the current total.

The top-two finishers will advance to a runoff in November to determine who will succeed Mayor Darrell Steinberg. He opted against running for a third term and has pledged to remain in office through the end of the year.

With 83,886 ballots in the county left to count, Hansen is waiting to see if his standing improves come Friday, when a new vote total will be released by 4:15 p.m.

"Appreciate everyone's patience while we await the results of this incredibly tight race. Thank you for the kind words and please continue to hang tight," wrote Hansen in a post on X late Tuesday afternoon.

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