Tied Richmond council race with gay candidate to be decided Tuesday

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 5, 2022
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Gay Richmond, California city council candidate Cesar Zepeda is tied with his opponent in the race. Photo: Courtesy Cesar Zepeda<br>
Gay Richmond, California city council candidate Cesar Zepeda is tied with his opponent in the race. Photo: Courtesy Cesar Zepeda

Tuesday morning, inside the chambers of the Richmond City Council, Cesar Zepeda will learn if he will join the governing body as the representative from the East Bay city's District 2. At 9 a.m. City Clerk Pamela Christian will determine by random draw the winner of his tied council race.

After trailing his opponent, Andrew Butt, for weeks following the November 8 election, Zepeda ended up in a dead tie with Butt when the final vote count was posted last Wednesday, November 30. They both received 1,921 votes.

With neither candidate asking for a recount, it is now up to the clerk to break the tie in a process detailed under the city's election rules. Christian on Saturday invited Zepeda and Butt to join her in the council chambers Tuesday at 9 a.m. for the event. (It will be streamed live online here.

"Each of you will write your name on paper and place it in an unmarked green envelope, seal it, and place it in our voting bag. Each of you will have an opportunity to shake the bag, and then I will draw an envelope," wrote Christian.

Whomever's name is picked becomes the new council member when the election winners are sworn into office in January.

If Zepeda is declared the winner, he will become the first out gay man to serve on the Richmond City Council and its second LGBTQ member. The first, lesbian former councilmember Jovanka Beckles, now serves on the board for the regional AC Transit system.

Another out candidate had also run for a Richmond council seat on the November 8 ballot. But Jamin Pursell, who is nonbinary and queer, lost their District 4 race.

Zepeda has called Richmond home since he moved there from Mexico when he was 8 years old. He had grown up in the small city of San Martin in Jalisco State.

As an adult, Zepeda became a homeowner and neighborhood leader in the city's Hilltop district. He also helped organize its Pride celebrations and launched an LGBTQ Democratic club for Contra Costa County.

He lost his first bid for a city council seat in 2016 and, three years later, was appointed to a vacant seat on the West County Wastewater District board. Rather than seek election this year to a full four-year term on it, Zepeda sought the council seat.

"Definitely shocked," said Zepeda, 42, had told the Bay Area Reporter last week about the outcome of his race. "I want to say, in a way, it is exciting."

Because, explained Zepeda, it is proof that every person's vote matters.

"This is really showcasing the power of the individual vote," said Zepeda, president of the wastewater board.

One reason Zepeda believes he ended up in the position he now finds himself is because he knocked on the doors of voters whose ballots had been rejected to ask them to "cure" them so they would be tabulated. In a process known as "ballot curing," voters whose mailed-in ballots were rejected for lacking a date on the envelope, or their signature didn't appear to match the one on file with the election's department, had until November 30 to correct the issue in order for their vote to be counted.

Zepeda had worked up to the deadline to reach the impacted voters, even though he didn't know which candidate they had voted for in the council race.

"I totally believe every vote matters and every vote has to be counted," said Zepeda.

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