Political Notes: Gay leader seeks Stockton council seat

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday April 17, 2023
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Stockton City Council candidate Mario Enríquez, center, will officially kick off his campaign May 4. Photo: Courtesy Mario Enríquez
Stockton City Council candidate Mario Enríquez, center, will officially kick off his campaign May 4. Photo: Courtesy Mario Enríquez

Since 2012, when its former member Susan Talamantes Eggman departed for the state Assembly, the Stockton City Council has not had out LGBTQ representation on it. Mario Enríquez is aiming to change that with his 2024 campaign for the San Joaquin Valley city's District 4 council seat.

Enríquez, a gay man who works for his alma mater the University of the Pacific, has been quietly raising money and seeking endorsements for his candidacy for several months. He will officially kick off his campaign with an event in early May.

"I want to hope and believe people want to elect someone who is prepared and trained for this role. It takes a lot to do it well," Enríquez, 35, told the Bay Area Reporter last week during his first news media interview about his candidacy. "I didn't wake up one day and say, 'Oh, I am going to run for office.' It takes a lot to prepare and do it well."

In fact, when he was an undergraduate at the private college in the late 2000s, Enríquez had told the local Stockton Record newspaper that he would seek elected office one day. He recently came across the article in which the reporter had also suggested he could run to be Stockton's mayor at some point.

"It shows the commitment and training I have done," said Enríquez, who moved back to Stockton last year in January after being hired to be the director of the university's Center for Identity & Inclusion.

After graduating in 2010 with a B.A. in sociology, Enríquez left Stockton to pursue new educational and professional opportunities. He did so, though, with plans to return one day to again plant roots in the city ahead of running for municipal office.

"I have always tried to find a way to come back home," said Enríquez. "In school my promise was to go out in the world and learn as much as I can but eventually bring it back. I held on to that promise."

Born in San Jose to parents who had left Mexico for the U.S., Enríquez and his family moved to Lathrop, just south of Stockton, in 1997. He attended a regional high school in Manteca and then enrolled at UOP.

By that time his parents were separated and his father, a cement mason, was unable to work due to legal issues. (Asked if his parents were now legal U.S. citizens, Enríquez would only say he was the "proud son of immigrant parents.")

A stay-at-home parent, Enríquez's mother couldn't afford to make the house payments, and the family dispersed after losing their Lathrop home. While Enríquez lived on campus, his mother moved back to San Jose and his sister departed for San Francisco.

After graduating he moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for three years as a youth program associate with the National Council of La Raza, now known as UnidosUS. He traveled the country speaking to college students and helped organize its annual youth conference.

The nonprofit Coro awarded him a public affairs fellowship in 2013, and that August Enríquez relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the 12-month leadership development program. The next year he enrolled in a two-year graduate program at the University of Southern California.

After earning his master's degree in public administration Enríquez was selected for a nine-month fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It brought him back to D.C. in August 2016; two years later the LGBTQ Victory Fund's educational arm, the Victory Institute, hired him as its director of constituent engagement.

He also oversaw the training programs for the nonprofit's annual International LGBTQ Leaders Conference. Victory's aim is to elect LGBTQ people to public office across the country, and its yearly confab in December brings together out elected leaders not only from the U.S. but also from across the globe. Roughly a month after the 2021 gathering wrapped, Enríquez moved back to California to begin work at UOP.

One of his responsibilities at Victory was updating its Out for America map of LGBTQ U.S. political and judicial leaders. Enríquez now hopes to see himself listed on it come 2025 should he be elected a councilmember next year.

The District 4 seat is open, as its current holder, Stockton City Councilmember Susan Lenz, will be termed out of office as of December 31, 2024. The election to succeed her will be held on the March 5 primary ballot next year.

"I am going to seek her endorsement. I hope to meet with her soon," said Enríquez.

If no candidate wins more than 50% percent of the vote next winter, then the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November. The filing deadline to enter the race is this December, and already several people have pulled papers in addition to Enríquez.

He did so last December and already has a campaign website up at Votemario.com. Enríquez told the B.A.R. he's raised $15,000 thus far and is aiming to net at least $150,000 for his campaign coffers.

First-time candidate

As a first-time candidate for public office, Enríquez hopes voters in his central Stockton district, which includes the UOP campus, will be amenable to electing him to the council as someone who will bring new ideas and a fresh set of eyes to the governance of their city.

"Let's try something new. Let's have a bold vision and try different things," he said. "I am excited to show and share with people the story of what Stockton can be. Other cities are doing it, so why not us? We can be that type of city that makes the right investments in people."

Eggman, a lesbian now serving her final term in the state Legislature as a senator representing Stockton, has yet to endorse Enríquez. She did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment about his candidacy by the deadline to so on Friday.

On Sunday, Eggman was scheduled to introduce Enríquez at a virtual event for a local Stockton Democratic club. He was invited to talk about why he is running for the council seat.

Gay City Councilmembers Dan Arriola of Tracy and Gabe Quinto of El Cerrito already have endorsed him. On the board of the League of California Cities, Quinto told the B.A.R. he is excited at seeing LGBTQ leaders like Enríquez run for elected office.

"In 2024, a lot folks will be retiring whether on the federal or state or county level or local officials. It is time to bring some people up," said Quinto, who was reelected to his council seat last November. "This new generation of people from our community will be a great addition to the office that they seek."

As for Enríquez, Quinto noted how he not only has long ties to Stockton but also helped elect numerous LGBTQ candidates across the country due to his previous work with the Victory Fund.

"What I am seeing up and down the state are great candidates who have had great careers, whether in Washington D.C. like Mario and his leadership on Victory Institute. He has trained so many of our now elected officials within our community, of course we need him here in California," said Quinto. "I think it is fantastic to have someone of his caliber, great education from USC come back to his hometown and be part of that new generation of leadership we need here in California."

Later this year Enríquez will be seeking the endorsement of the Victory Fund and statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California. He also plans to host a local fundraiser, likely in San Francisco, at some point.

For now, he is focused on his kickoff event set to take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May, 4, at brewpub Valley Brew (https://www.valleybrew.com/). The city's oldest brewery, it is located along Stockton's commercial corridor known as the Miracle Mile that is part of the 4th council district.

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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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