Political Notebook: Vallejo leader Wilson vies to be 1st gay Solano supervisor

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday October 4, 2023
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Solano County supervisor candidate Michael Wilson, left, joined his husband, Peter, and their dogs Raffie and Simon. Photo: Courtesy Michael Wilson<br>
Solano County supervisor candidate Michael Wilson, left, joined his husband, Peter, and their dogs Raffie and Simon. Photo: Courtesy Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson, a gay former Vallejo city councilmember, is vying to become the first known LGBTQ member of the Solano County Board of Supervisors. He is seeking to succeed his boss, District 1 Supervisor Erin Hannigan, on the countywide governing body.

Hannigan, who served with Wilson on the Vallejo council in the late 2000s, announced earlier this year she would not seek reelection to a fourth four-year supervisorial term in 2024. She hired Wilson as her district representative at the start of her first term in 2013 and has endorsed his bid for her board seat.

"I could not be more pleased that my senior district representative, Michael Wilson, has answered the call to run for my seat. We served together on the Vallejo City Council, and he has worked alongside me as my chief of staff since I was elected to the county," stated Hannigan in June when Wilson launched his campaign. "Michael has been at the forefront of our efforts to bring good-paying jobs, new business and industry, solutions to homelessness, and accessible, quality health care to the City of Vallejo and Solano County."

Wilson, 54, is aiming to win the seat outright on the March 5 primary ballot by netting more than 50% percent of the vote. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters in the race will advance to a runoff on the November 5 general election ballot.

"I really love the services we are able to bring to our community, and I love working as her district representative and I want to continue that service as county supervisor," Wilson told the Bay Area Reporter in an October 2 phone interview to discuss his candidacy. "I feel confident about being able to win the election in March, especially if only two people are in the race the odds are better someone will have greater than 50% of the vote."

As of now, the only other candidate to officially launch a campaign for the supervisor seat is Vallejo Housing and Community Development Commissioner Cassandra James. She currently works as a senior community development specialist at the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development in San Francisco, where she grew up.

The mother of two, who moved to the North Bay city 13 years ago, lost a bid for a Vallejo City Council seat last year. She would be the second African American woman elected to the county board, as District 3 Supervisor Wanda Williams became the first with her election last November.

"Like so many of you, I have chosen to raise my children in Vallejo, and I want them to live in a community where everyone has a chance to pursue their dreams," stated James, 36, in announcing her candidacy in June.

Wilson is one of a quintet of out supervisor candidates on March ballots around the Golden State. As with his contest, if no candidate secures more than 50% in those races then the top two vote-getters advance to fall runoff races.

In Alameda County gay nurse and former union leader Jennifer Esteen is running against District 4 Supervisor Nate Miley, who is seeking a seventh term. Should Esteen win, she would be the first out member of her county's board and the only known Black LGBTQ supervisor in the state.

District 3 San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, who is nonbinary and pansexual, is running for reelection next year. The Democrat is facing a challenge from Republican former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Lesbian Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian is seeking reelection in March to her District 3 seat. First elected in 2016, she represents her hometown of Visalia on the county board.

Gay Skyforest resident Graham Smith is aiming to be the first gay supervisor in San Bernardino County. He is one of several candidates running against District 3 Supervisor Dawn Rowe in March.

There are currently eight known LGBTQ county supervisors in California; the other six are all gay men who won their 2022 elections. Martin Huberty serves in Calaveras County; Ken Carlson in Contra Costa County; Yxstian Gutierrez in Riverside County; and Rafael Mandelman, Matt Dorsey, and Joel Engardio all serve in San Francisco County.

Running on the November 2024 ballot for the open District 9 supervisor seat on the San Francisco board are gay civil rights advocate Trevor Chandler, who just married his husband, and queer progressive leader Jackie Fielder. Their race will be decided by ranked-choice voting, as a number of candidates are expected to seek to succeed the termed out incumbent, Supervisor Hillary Ronen.

Strong ties to Vallejo

Wilson and his husband, Peter, are well known civic leaders in southern Solano County. Outside of his political work, Wilson lends his skills as an auctioneer for nonprofit galas, while his husband is executive director of the Florence Douglas Center, a Vallejo-based nonprofit that provides services to seniors in the area.

Elected in 2007 to his council seat in Vallejo, Wilson lost a bid for a state Assembly seat on the primary ballot in 2010. The following year, he opted not to seek reelection to the City Council.

Despite his county being one of the more conservative in the Bay Area region, Wilson told the B.A.R. he doesn't see his sexual orientation being an issue for most voters in the supervisorial district. He noted he is among the three out gay men who have won election to Vallejo's council; the most recent being District 5 City Councilmember Peter Bregenzer elected last November. (Bregenzer is among the various elected officials in the county who have endorsed Wilson in the supervisor race.)

"In my previous campaigns I had the support of people from a broad spectrum, and they chose to support and endorse and vote for me because they think I can be a positive voice," said Wilson. "And one aspect of that is I am married to a fantastic person and I am an openly gay man. People also think I give a hard look at the issues and bring a strong voice for our community and listen to their concerns.

"I am excited to bring that voice to the county level and represent everyone in Solano County," he added.

The youngest of six children, Wilson grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Fluent in Spanish, he joined the Jesuit Order and spent time living in Central America and Mexico.

He left his role with the Catholic Church during graduate school when he came out as gay in 1997, having fallen in love with his now husband, known then as Peter Lepley. He took Wilson's last name when they married, while Wilson took Lepley as his middle name.

The couple first wed in 2004 when San Francisco officials bucked state law and married same-sex couples during what became known as the "Winter of Love." With that marriage annulled that summer by the state courts, the couple married a second time July 3, 2008 after the California Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples in the state had a right to marry. Of course, that November, a slim majority of voters passed Proposition 8 to define marriage as between a man and a woman in the California Constitution.

Even though the federal courts would later rule Prop 8 as being unconstitutional, its language remains embedded in the state's governing document. Voters next November will be asked to adopt a proposition to repeal Prop 8's language from the constitution.

Should he not win the supervisor seat outright in March, Wilson could find himself running for the elected position on the same fall ballot with the Prop 8 repeal measure. He told the B.A.R. he is hopeful of seeing the final remnants of the homophobic proposition be excised from the constitution.

"I think we should remove Prop 8 from our California Constitution forever. I am very hopeful," he said.

On the matter of a proposal by tech billionaires to build a new city in his county, which has riveted local and state leaders for weeks, Wilson told the B.A.R. he has not made up his mind on if he would support such a development should he be tasked with voting on it as a supervisor. But he did raise questions about its impact on what is now a largely agricultural area, saying that rezoning all 55,000 acres owned by the proponents "is ridiculous."

It will be the purview of the supervisors since the land is in an unincorporated area of Solano County.

"For me, it is not about one vote on where are we going to go on this. It is about having leaders work day in and day out to ensure whatever happens, it is going to enhance our entire community throughout the county," said Wilson. "A new city is hard to imagine. But whatever steps they take, we need strong leaders at the board of supervisors to make sure any steps taken are to the benefit of all of our residents in Solano."

To learn more about Wilson and his supervisorial bid, visit his campaign website at wilsonforsupervisor.com.

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 LGBTQ leaders' reactions to the death of U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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