Political Notes: Bay Area cities welcome new LGBTQ leaders

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday December 12, 2022
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Devin Murphy was selected by the Pinole City Council to be its mayor this year and took his oath of office December 6. Photo: Courtesy Devin Murphy
Devin Murphy was selected by the Pinole City Council to be its mayor this year and took his oath of office December 6. Photo: Courtesy Devin Murphy

Cities around the Bay Area are welcoming new LGBTQ leaders this month and next, following the outcomes of local elections on the November 8 ballot. It is also the season when many ceremonial mayors pass on their gavels to one of their fellow city councilmembers to serve in the unelected role for a yearlong term.

Such was the case December 6 in Pinole, when gay City Councilmember Devin Murphy took his oath of office to become the East Bay city's mayor. He is Pinole's first Black, first openly gay, and youngest mayor.

"It's been a whirlwind but an exciting time," Murphy, 29, told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview last Thursday.

Elected two years ago with 6,631 votes, the most ever for a candidate in his city, Murphy said, he did not survive the June primary to become Contra Costa County's clerk-recorder. As for his next electoral plans, as he will be up for reelection to his council seat in 2024, Murphy would only say he is focused on serving as mayor through next December.

"I have not committed to anything else besides being mayor for the city of Pinole," said Murphy, who had California Controller-elect Malia Cohen administer his oath of office. "I am proud and humbled and honored to be entrusted with this role."

For the past year both El Cerrito and Emeryville have had gay mayors, City Councilmembers Gabe Quinto and John Bauters, respectively. Quinto, who is one of two HIV-positive elected city leaders in the Bay Area, won a hard fought reelection race for a third four-year term last month. Bauters isn't up for reelection until 2024.

The El Cerrito City Council will elect a new mayor at its December 20 meeting when Quinto and lesbian city councilmember-elect Carolyn Wysinger take their oaths of office. Cohen is expected to swear in Wysinger, while Quinto has asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Pelayo Llamas, the first Filipino on the East Bay bench, to administer his oath, as they have known each other since high school.

Quinto that night will be passing the mayoral gavel to City Councilmember Lisa Motoyama, currently mayor pro tem. She will be El Cerrito's first Japanese American mayor.

The Emeryville City Council will meet Monday (December 12) and vote on which of its members will become the new mayor. Bauters did not rule out serving another term in response to a question from the B.A.R. last week.

"That's for council to decide on Monday. I will support whatever council wants," replied Bauters.

He noted, like other cities, the council usually rotates who is mayor among the members but in recent years they have ended up rotating out of order, skipped some members, and made other changes to how the mayor ended up being chosen.

"Not everyone can or wants to do it for family or job reasons. I will do what we always do and call for nominations from the members and see if any nomination draws a second," Bauters told the B.A.R.

Poised to become mayor of Corte Madera for a second time next December is bisexual City Councilmember Eli Beckman. He just won reelection to a second four-year term and, at the council's December 6 meeting, was elected vice mayor a second time.

After first serving in the second-in-command position throughout 2020, Beckman became mayor of the North Bay town in December of that year and stepped down 12 months later. Thus, he should be elevated to his second mayoral term at the council's first December meeting of 2023.

With the departures of Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale and Vice Mayor Diana Reddy, as neither opted to seek reelection this year, the Peninsula city's seven councilmembers will be voting Monday night on which of them will succeed Hale. First, the winners of the three council seats on last month's ballot will be sworn into office, including incoming gay District 2 councilmember Chris Sturken.

At 28, Sturken is the youngest man to win election to his city council in recent memory and its third out member to be elected in recent years. Two years ago saw the elections of Michael Smith, a gay Black business entrepreneur, and Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, who is a queer, nonbinary Chicanx. Smith resigned this summer due to moving back to Connecticut to care for an ailing family member.

Espinoza-Garnica did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment on if they would seek to become mayor. Asked Friday if he knew who would be the new mayor, Sturken merely replied, "We'll be voting on it on Monday."

Other cities

Across the bay Monday night in San Leandro, gay City Councilmember Victor Aguilar Jr. will be sworn into a second term as the District 3 representative, having been unopposed last month. Joining him will be bisexual city councilmember-elect Celina Reynes, who won the race this year for the District 1 seat. (The Alameda County city directly elects its mayor.)

Sturken was one of four new LGBTQ council members elected in the Silicon Valley region last month. In Cupertino, gay City Councilmember J.R. Fruen took his oath of office December 9 at Cupertino Community Hall. He had lost his first race for a council seat in 2020 and was one of three people elected to the governing body last month.

An attorney, Fruen is the first LGBTQ person to serve on the Cupertino City Council. He did not respond to a request for comment by the deadline to do so last Friday.

In the most high-profile South Bay council race gay Democratic Party official Omar Torres is set to return out leadership to the San Jose City Council for the first time in 16 years. The San Jose native won election to the District 3 council seat in the Bay Area's largest city.

Torres will be the first out person of color on the council and only its second out LGBTQ member when he takes his oath of office in early January. It is possible another LGBTQ councilmember could join him.

In a controversial move, the current councilmembers recently voted to fill two council vacancies — the District 8 and District 10 seats — rather than foot the bill for a special election. At this time it is unclear if either seat will go to an LGBTQ community leader; Torres has yet to respond to a request for comment on the matter.

The deadline for those interested in applying to be considered for the appointments is 11:59 p.m. on Monday, January 2. More information about the application process can be found online here.

Also taking his oath of office early next year, on January 3, will be Sunnyvale city Councilmember-elect Richard Mehlinger, who is queer and bisexual. He won election to the District 5 council seat.

"It's a tremendous honor and I am humbled and looking forward to getting to work," he recently told the B.A.R.

Mehlinger will serve alongside queer Sunnyvale City Councilmember Alysa Cisneros, elected in 2020 and currently the vice mayor. The South Bay city directly elects its mayor.

In Richmond, gay resident Cesar Zepeda will take his oath of office to become the new District 2 city councilmember in January. After landing in a tie with his opponent, Andrew Butt, Zepeda saw his name be drawn randomly out of a red shopping bag by the city clerk last week and thus be declared the winner of the race.

Neither candidate had asked for a recount prior to the tie-breaking event, yet Butt requested one after he lost the draw. It remains to be seen if the result of the race will change, and in the meantime Zepeda is already acting as the councilmember-elect.

Also set to be sworn into office early next month are Oakland District 4 City Councilmember-elect Janani Ramachandran, a queer social justice attorney, and Contra Costa County District 4 Supervisor-elect Ken Carlson, a gay man and longtime member of the Pleasant Hill City Council.

In San Francisco, gay District 4 Supervisor-elect Joel Engardio is hosting his ceremonial swearing-in Saturday, January 7, at the Irish Cultural Center. The community celebration is taking place a day ahead of when the Board of Supervisors is set to meet at City Hall to elect a new president and welcome the winners of the November races for the five even-numbered districts. The incumbents in the four other contests — including gay Supervisors Rafael Mandelman in District 8 and Matt Dorsey in District 6, the other known HIV-positive elected local leader — all won their races.

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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