Gay Richmond council candidate Zepeda selected as winner

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday December 6, 2022
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Cesar Zepeda was selected in a random draw as the winner of the Richmond District 2 City Council race. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Cesar Zepeda was selected in a random draw as the winner of the Richmond District 2 City Council race. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

With the drawing of his name out of a red Christmas holiday shopping bag by Richmond City Clerk Pamela Christian, Cesar Zepeda was selected as the winner of the East Bay city's District 2 council race. He will be the first out gay man to serve on the governing body.

Due to Zepeda landing in a tie against his opponent, Andrew Butt, with 1,921 votes each, the outcome of their contest was decided by random draw Tuesday morning inside the chambers of the Richmond City Council. It did not go off without a hitch, however, as it took Christian two times to declare the winner.

Shortly after 9 a.m. she had the two candidates come to a table and write their names down on a white piece of paper then seal them in separate green envelopes. Butt and Zepeda then placed their envelopes in the bag and then each shook it for several seconds.

"First Andrew then Cesar. We are just going in alphabetical order," said Christian, who also shook the bag.

After all three had vigorously shaken the bag, Christian had the two candidates hold it up in the air as she stuck her hand in. But when she withdrew her hand, she had drawn out both of their envelopes by mistake.

"I got two," proclaimed Christian, who put the two envelopes back into the bag. "Let's shake it again, sorry."

At this point, Butt raised an objection to the bag, which he complained was "too small," and suggested the two candidates take one of the green envelopes and "throw them across the room or something?"

To which Christian responded, "We will go with the bag."

At that, the envelopes went back into the bag, the two candidates shook hands, and Christian this time removed one green envelope. She returned to a speaker's dais to open it and read out the name of the councilmember-elect.

"So the winner for District 2 is Cesar Zepeda," Christian announced.

It was a stunning turn of events for Zepeda, who had trailed Butt for weeks following the November 8 election. The tied outcome of their contest came when the final vote count was posted last Wednesday, November 30.

Because neither candidate asked for a recount, it was up to the city's clerk to break the tie in a process detailed under Richmond's election rules.

Zepeda will now join the council when the election winners are sworn into office in January. He will be the only LGBTQ member on it and only the second out councilmember in the city's history. 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, Zepeda sought the council seat instead.

"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. The elections 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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