Political Notes: Outside Bay Area, mixed results for LGBTQ city council candidates

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday November 6, 2020
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Lisa Middleton, left, and Christy Holstege were both reelected to the Palm Springs City Council November 3. Photos: Courtesy LGBTQ Victory Fund
Lisa Middleton, left, and Christy Holstege were both reelected to the Palm Springs City Council November 3. Photos: Courtesy LGBTQ Victory Fund

Outside of the Bay Area the November 3 election brought mixed results for LGBTQ candidates seeking city council seats in various California cities.

In Palm Springs, voters in two newly created council districts reelected the city's two out female councilwomen who had won their citywide races three years ago. Lisa Middleton, the state's first elected transgender city council member, won her race for a four-year term in the District 5 seat.

And Christy Holstege, who is bisexual, won her race for a four-year term representing the District 4 seat on the council. Her reelection means Holstege will once again make LGBTQ political history as she is set to become her city's first female and first bisexual mayor, as the Political Notes column first reported last December.

Holstege has been serving as mayor pro tem of the Coachella Valley city and will succeed Mayor Geoff Kors, a gay man elected last fall to the District 3 council seat, when the City Council meets next month to swear in the winners of Tuesday's election and elect a new mayor to a one-year term.

When she first ran in 2017 Holstege faced questions about her bisexuality due to her being married to a man. Those attacks grew even louder in her reelection race this summer and fall, so much so that the Desert Stonewall Democrats, statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, and the national LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect out candidates, issued a joint statement in late October denouncing the attacks and Holstege's opponents in the race for amplifying them on social media.

Responding to a congratulatory tweet EQCA posted on its Twitter feed November 5 following an updated vote count showing that she had cinched her reelection, Holstege thanked the group for its support in the race.

"This historic moment belongs to all the leaders that came before who got us to this point, to EQCA for the work you do to elect LGBTQ people across the state and to our entire community!" she wrote.

Other races

It was a different story for the out incumbents in one of the state's other LGBTQ enclaves. Voters in West Hollywood ousted two longtime gay city councilmen: John Heilman and John Duran.

Replacing them will be the first place finisher Sepi Shyne, an Iranian American lesbian and civil rights attorney, and John Erickson, a gay man who has been serving on the city's planning commission.

Heilman has served on the council since the city in Los Angeles County incorporated in 1984, and Duran was first elected in 2001. In addition to complaints about the length of their serving on the council, Duran was accused of sexually harassing members of the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus last year and stepped down from both its board and as mayor, a position rotated among the council members.

Duran conceded that both men had lost in a post on his Facebook page Thursday morning.

"I did lose my reelection this week to West Hollywood City Council. It was hard fought and disappointing," he wrote. "Yet, I am not filled with dread or gloom today. I have congratulated the 2 winners and I am ready to move forward with whatever plans God has for me in the future."

And in Santa Cruz, a city with large lesbian and LGBTQ Latinx communities, it appears both of the out women of color who had sought election to the City Council fell short. There were four seats up for grabs and, as of Friday afternoon, neither of the two women was winning.

Trailing in fifth place was Kayla Kumar, who is queer and Indian American, making her first bid for elective office. Her campaign was upended by the wildfires that devastated the Santa Cruz Mountains, as Kumar lives in a neighborhood near the UC Santa Cruz campus that was forced to evacuate at one point.

The development director of the nonprofit Food, What?! that works with marginalized youth of color throughout Santa Cruz County, Kumar was more than 1,500 votes behind the fourth place winner in the race as of Noon, November 6. In a Facebook post she stopped short of conceding but foreshadowed that even if she didn't win she planned to remain engaged.

"This was a team of young, BIPOC, LGBTQ, activated people, many of whom tried on politics for the first time as a way of stepping to the great challenges of racism, classism, and power imbalances that define the current status quo in Santa Cruz," wrote Kumar in thanking her campaign team. "The campaign went to every corner of our City and, as a result, people found real hope during the hardest year of their lives. What a gift to offer our people."

Landing in sixth place behind Kumar was Maria Cadenas, a lesbian single mom who had hoped to become the first Latina to serve on the council. She had gotten into the race after losing her bid earlier this year for a Central Coast state Senate seat.

Cadenas, executive director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures, which focuses on income inequality among women and people of color, congratulated the four female winners in a video she emailed out to her backers thanking them for their support.

"It has been a privilege being a candidate among you," said Cadenas, adding that, "Democracy is not easy; it takes all of us. It takes our activism and actions to make it happen. Thank you for making it happen here in Santa Cruz. I look forward to continue to work with you to make a difference in our tomorrow."

The county's voters, as expected, did elect gay former state Assemblyman and past Santa Cruz mayor John Laird to the state Senate seat that Cadenas had sought. They also elected lesbian attorney Nancy de la Pe´┐Ża as the first LGBTQ judge on the local superior court.

And Steve Trujillo, a gay man, won his bid for the District 7 seat on the Cabrillo Community College Board of Trustees. He will serve alongside fellow trustee Adam Spickler, who in 2018 became the first transgender male public official in California.

Nearby in Watsonville gay former city councilman Jimmy Dutra won election to the city council's District 6 seat. Two years ago he stepped down from the District 4 council seat when he lost his bid to be the first openly LGBTQ member on the county Board of Supervisors.

"A great day for the GLBT community in Santa Cruz County," noted Trujillo, who had lost his bid for a Watsonville City Council seat in 2018.

In San Diego, a domino effect of political chairs led to the election of gay nonprofit leader Stephen Whitburn on the City Council. He will succeed gay District 3 City Councilman Chris Ward, who will be succeeding state Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) as Gloria won his race to become San Diego's first gay elected mayor.

One of the Golden State's few out LGBTQ Republican officeholders, gay San Bernardino City Councilman Henry Nickel, is headed to defeat in his reelection bid this year. As of Friday afternoon, Nickel was trailing behind first place finisher Ben Reynoso by 75 votes in their race for the council's Ward 5 seat.

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

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