Political Notebook: Gay Monterey Councilman Williamson aims to be mayor

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022
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Monterey City Councilmember Tyller Williamson, center, is surrounded by supporters for his mayoral campaign. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Monterey City Councilmember Tyller Williamson, center, is surrounded by supporters for his mayoral campaign. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

When Monterey City Councilman Tyller Williamson took his oath of office December 4, 2018, he became the first known LGBTQ person to help lead the global tourist destination along California's Central Coast. He was also the first Black council member in the city's history, and at 31 years of age, the youngest.

Now, Williamson is aiming to become the first Black and first gay mayor of Monterey and its nearly 29,000 residents. Elected citywide to a two-year term, the mayor works closely with the city manager and the other four members of the City Council.

The seat is open this year as Mayor Clyde Roberson, who was born in Oakland, decided not to seek a fifth consecutive term. Williamson officially launched his mayoral campaign in front of City Hall last Saturday, August 27, and was also named last week an "Essential Voices for Equality" fall candidate endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ people to public office across the country.

He is one of two out councilmembers running this year to be mayor of their city in the South Bay and Central Coast regions. Gay Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker is also vying to be elected in November to lead his city in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter by phone August 26, Williamson said he felt compelled to run for mayor at such an important moment for his city and region on the Monterey Peninsula. Like the Bay Area, the Monterey metro area is also dealing with a lack of affordable housing, strains on its local workforce, an increasing unhoused population, and the repercussions of climate change.

"I just felt like this was an opportunity for me to either step up or step back. I ran for City Council in 2018 to make a difference in the community and to help Monterey move forward. I feel I have been able to do that and achieved a lot of the things I ran on in 2018," said Williamson, 34, who works in human resources at the Naval Postgraduate School. "I feel if the council remains with the same makeup then I am not sure how much more I will be able to get done. This really presented an opportunity to change things up."

This year, the city is transitioning to electing its council members by district, with two of the four seats on the November 8 ballot. Williamson is hoping to see Kim Barber, a Black straight ally, succeed him on the council in the District 1 seat.

An administrator at California State University, Monterey Bay, where she is director of the pre-college and early outreach support programs, Barber would be the only woman serving on the council if elected. She would also double representation by people of color on the council if Williamson becomes mayor, as he is currently the only non-Caucasian council member.

"I think she is going to do a great job providing a different perspective, and a much-needed perspective, on the council," said Williamson.

Councilmember Ed Smith is running unopposed for the new District 2 seat, while Councilmember Dan Albert Jr. is competing against Williamson to be elected mayor. His father had served as mayor in the 1980s and 1990s alongside Roberson, who was a City Council member for 16 years and is now supporting the younger Albert to succeed him as mayor.

(Albert could remain in his council seat should he lose his mayoral bid, as his seat and the fourth council seat won't be up until 2024.)

Williamson, who will find out in October if readers of the Monterey County Weekly chose him as the newspaper's "Best Local Politician in Monterey County 2022," told the B.A.R. he is undaunted running against someone whose family has such long ties to the local community. (The school district named its football field and stadium after the elder Albert, its longtime football coach.)

"I feel I have a really good chance of being successful with this experience and moving Monterey forward," said Williamson, who owns a home with his domestic partner, high school history teacher Ivan Quiroz Bautista, in the city's Old Town section that they share with their long-haired dachshund Sasha.

Raised by a mom serving in the Navy, Williamson lived in different cities across the globe as a child. He first moved to the Monterey area in 2010 for a job with the Naval Postgraduate School and graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay in 2013. He went on to earn a master's of business administration from the naval school.

As he told the B.A.R. four years ago during his City Council campaign, Williamson found inspiration to run for elected office as a campaign staffer on Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. During Obama's 2012 reelection bid, Williamson won a campaign fellowship and helped organize outreach efforts in Monterey.

It led to his being hired as the deputy regional field director for the Obama campaign in the Bay Area. Williamson relocated to Oakland then San Francisco for several months for the job, which resulted in his working daily in the Castro and coming out of the closet.

When he returned home to the coast, Williamson helped launch the Monterey Peninsula Pride event. It held its 2022 celebration in late July and is planning to host the 2023 event on July 15.

He plans to employ his local organizing skills onto his mayoral bid with a "very strong" field campaign at the center of his electoral efforts. He is targeting the 66% of residents who rent in Monterey as well as younger residents of the city.

"I plan to go out and talk to voters and have conversations about why moving Monterey forward is what I have heard is wanted in the community and why I think I am the better candidate to represent the city in trying to bring us into the 21st century here," said Williamson.

Housing is a major issue of his campaign, as it impacts many of the people who work in the local tourist industry and struggle to afford to live near their jobs. Monterey has seen its new housing requirement go from 650 units to nearly 3,700 units, a target that Williamson is committed to meeting as mayor.

"One of the things I was able to achieve during my council term was we did a rezoning that allowed additional housing development in the city of Monterey. Broadly speaking, that was something I don't think would have happened if I wasn't on the council and bringing that forward," said Williamson, who has pushed the city to work with developers to build affordable housing on city-owned land.

He is also an advocate for a "housing first" approach when trying to move unhoused people off the streets. Providing them with permanent housing can also be coupled with access to various services, he argued, that can assist them in remaining housed and leading productive lives.

It is just one of the issues as mayor Williamson would want to take a regional leadership role on, he told the B.A.R.

"How do we work with other leaders within our community to not only take care of the issues important to the residents of Monterey but do look at it with a regional perspective while being mindful of how our taxpayer dollars are being used?" he asked.

He is eschewing corporate donations for his mayoral campaign and is capped at receiving $525 from donors, a limit he pushed for as a council member. Williamson is almost halfway toward raising his goal of $40,000 for his campaign coffers, he told the B.A.R.

Even if someone can only donate $20 toward his campaign, Williamson hopes they will support his bid to break through several political glass ceilings in his city.

"Representation matters," noted Williamson, adding that in particular for "queer kids in our community to see someone in a position of power leading the city from a mayoral seat has a huge impact."

To learn more about Williamson's mayoral campaign, visit his website.

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 $20 million in federal funds to end the HIV epidemic

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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