Political Notebook: Santa Claran Becker aims to be Bay Area's first big city gay mayor

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday October 19, 2022
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Santa Clara mayoral candidate Anthony Becker. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Santa Clara mayoral candidate Anthony Becker. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

In such a liberal region as that of the Bay Area, it seems improbable that there has never been an LGBTQ person elected to a full-term as mayor of a large city. Since 2012 the Napa County city of Calistoga, population 5,346, has been led by Chris Canning, a gay man who will depart this year when his term ends.

A number of out city councilmembers have served ceremonially in the role in smaller cities that do not directly elect their mayor. And out candidates in San Francisco and Oakland have come close to being their city's elected mayor in recent years but ended up falling short.

Gay former Vallejo City Councilmember Gary Cloutier did briefly serve as mayor of the Solano County city. But, after being mayor for seven days following the November 2007 election, Cloutier was ousted after a recount determined that Osby Davis had won the race by three votes. Davis took his oath of office as mayor that December.

Now gay Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker, 37, is aiming to end the drought of out elected mayors of major cities in the Bay Area. He is making his second run to lead his South Bay city with a population of 126,723.

Elected to his District 6 council seat in 2020, becoming the second LGBTQ person to serve on it, Becker lost his 2018 bid to become mayor. Once again he is attempting to oust from office Mayor Lisa Gillmor, 62, a former longtime councilmember.

In 2016, her council colleagues appointed Gillmor the city's mayor when her predecessor resigned. Two years later she won a full four-year term and is seeking reelection this November.

Becker told the Bay Area Reporter it would be both a privilege and an honor should he be able to be the first out mayor of a large Bay Area city.

"I would be happy to break that ceiling. I think it is time, especially in this area," said Becker, who lives with his partner of three years, Abel Cardona, 33, a public school program administrator in San Jose. "I am going to do something I think Harvey Milk would have done in San Francisco; he would have been the next mayor after (George) Moscone. He had the power and the will."

Milk, the city's first gay supervisor, and Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978 by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White. Having received death threats, Milk famously taped his political will should he be killed and suggested several gay men to be appointed his successor on the board.

As the news site San Jose Spotlight first reported last week, Becker has also received death threats and been subjected to homophobic slurs. It noted that Becker has been referred to as the "monkeypox candidate" by commenters on the Santa Clara News Online blog.

Becker and other LGBTQ leaders have called on Gillmor, because she has retweeted stories posted to the blog, to denounce the bigoted commentary on it. The South Bay LGBTQ political group BAYMEC, which stands for Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee and endorsed Becker in the race, issued a statement October 14 calling on Gillmor to "immediately condemn the homophobic hate speech" targeting Becker and to "apologize for spreading a platform of hate in our community."

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization that has not endorsed in the race, weighed in on the matter this week, retweeting BAYMEC's statement October 17 and adding that "homophobic hate speech has no place in Santa Clara or anywhere in California!"

In a response she shared with the B.A.R. and had posted on BAYMEC's Facebook and Twitter accounts last Friday, Gillmor said she had shared a post from the blog last December about Becker's reaction to an opinion from a resident about the 49ers football team.

"I have always supported BAYMEC and the LGBTQ+ community and I will continue to do so even though BAYMEC is supporting my opponent in this election," wrote Gillmor, adding that she doesn't "condone inappropriate or hateful comments that any readers left on that column or any column. Hate speech, threats or bullying is not acceptable in our city."

The deal the city made over a decade ago with the NFL team that led to it leaving San Francisco for a new stadium in Santa Clara has been a flashpoint between the two mayoral candidates for years. The football team has repeatedly clashed with city leaders and staff about the facility, from how it is managed to what the city is owed in stadium rent, leading to legal disputes.

Team owner Jed York pumped millions of dollars into the council races two years ago to help elect Becker and several other council candidates. They were painted as being aligned with the 49ers, which Becker strenuously refuted at the time and continues to do so.

He contends the city leadership needs to have a dialogue with the team in order to address the myriad issues with the stadium. Becker refutes the attacks that his meetings with 49ers representatives are conducted surreptitiously.

"I list every meeting I have with the 49ers lobbyists. If they want to meet with me, I have an open door policy," he said. "I do so with open ears and open eyes. I want to hear from everybody."

But the accusations continue to be thrown at Becker and his council colleagues with whom he is aligned. It has led to calls this month to recall them and the release of a scathing grand jury report about their handling of the matter that Becker has contended is a politically motivated hit piece against him to derail his mayoral bid.

Gillmor refers to the dispute in her campaign signs that declare "Leadership You Can't Buy!" Because the mayoral race's outcome will impact the relationship between the 49ers ownership and the city's leadership for the next four years, the Silicon Valley political contest has drawn intense media interest.

"I expected it to blow up," Becker told the B.A.R. about the ongoing disagreements between the city leaders over the stadium and the council's dealings with the team. "This goes back 10 years when we brought the 49ers here. The mayor and City Council got a deal that is not the best for Santa Clara."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the second installment of an LGBTQ report card for California unified school districts.

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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