Political Notebook: Final results come in for out CA candidates

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 7, 2022
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Cesar Zepeda, left, was declared the winner in his race, Chris Sturken won his election, and Christy Holstege remains stuck in second place in Southern California. Photos; Courtesy the candidates
Cesar Zepeda, left, was declared the winner in his race, Chris Sturken won his election, and Christy Holstege remains stuck in second place in Southern California. Photos; Courtesy the candidates

A month after the November 8 election and the final results are now in for two of the three last remaining California races that featured out candidates. Two gay men won their races for Bay Area city council seats, while a Southern California bisexual Assembly candidate continues to trail in second place with more votes yet to be counted in their contest.

In the oddest of electoral twists, Cesar Zepeda is now set to become the first out gay man to serve on the Richmond City Council due to his name being drawn out of a red holiday shopping bag Tuesday morning. He ended up in a dead heat against his opponent, Andrew Butt, with 1,921 votes each in their contest for the East Bay city's District 2 council seat.

Because neither candidate asked for a recount, it was up to City Clerk Pamela Christian to break the tie in a process detailed under Richmond's election rules. Butt's father, current Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, earlier this year had voted to adopt it along with current councilmembers.

As the Bay Area Reporter first reported online December 6, it took Christian two tries to select the winner. Shortly after 9 a.m. she had the two candidates come to a table and write their names down on a white piece of paper then seal them in separate green envelopes. Butt and Zepeda then placed their envelopes in the bag and each shook it for several seconds.

Christian also shook the bag, but when she went to pull out one of the envelopes, she mistakenly grabbed both. Thus, the trio repeated the process of putting the envelopes in the bag, shaking it, and having Christian draw out one of them.

By pure chance — or luck — it was Zepeda's name that was chosen. When he takes his oath of office in January, Zepeda will be the only LGBTQ member on his council and only the second out councilmember in his city's history.

"What I said to her was, 'Oh, another tie! I tried to make light of it," Zepeda, who lost his first council race in 2016, told the Bay Area Reporter. "At the end of the day, we both ran a campaign that was different in perspective on how we want to serve our community and what we believe is a good way to move our community forward. We both had our different messages that at times were very similar because, at the end of the day, we are both moderate Democrats and both pragmatic individuals."

A health benefits adviser and consultant for a private firm, Zepeda had to rush to an in-person meeting that had been scheduled for months as soon as the City Hall event concluded and he gave brief remarks to a bank of reporters outside.

"Of course, today, I had a big meeting I had to be at in-person," quipped Zepeda, who is single and lives with his two German shorthaired pointers Zulu and Zeke.

Richmond's first LGBTQ councilmember, Jovanka Beckles, a lesbian, now serves on the board for the regional AC Transit system. Jamin Pursell, who is nonbinary and queer, had sought Richmond's District 4 council seat last month but lost their race.

Peninsula race

On the Peninsula, gay Redwood City Planning Commissioner Chris Sturken won election to his city's District 2 council seat, which includes the downtown area, by a 50-vote margin. Initially in second place for days after the November 8 election, Sturken in mid-November then vaulted into first place.

With all votes now counted, he won with 40.74% of the vote for a total of 1,091 votes. When he takes his oath of office next Monday, December 12, the 28-year-old Sturken will be the youngest man on 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, though Smith resigned this summer due to moving back to Connecticut to care for an ailing family member.

"On that day when no more ballots were left to count, I realized I had it in the bag. It was exhilarating; it was a relief," Sturken told the B.A.R. "I am just so grateful to everyone who made it possible."

His winning truly sank in, added Sturken, when outgoing Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale, who had been elected citywide to the City Council four years ago, retweeted his November 16 tweet about taking the lead in his race that day for the first time. She lives in District 2 but opted not to seek reelection this year and ended her bid for a state Assembly seat this summer due to the hostility she and her family were subjected to during the campaign.

"When she tweeted it then I was like, 'OK, it must be official!'" Sturken recalled.

Sturken is one of four new LGBTQ council members elected in the Silicon Valley region. In the most high-profile 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.

Richard Mehlinger, who is queer and bisexual, will serve alongside queer Sunnyvale City Councilmember Alysa Cisneros, elected in 2020. He won election to the District 5 council seat.

In Cupertino J.R. Fruen, a gay man, won his second bid for a city council seat after losing his race two years ago. He was one of seven candidates running against an incumbent councilmember for three citywide council seats on last month's ballot.

With 15.90% of the vote, Fruen took third place in the race to win. The attorney will be the first LGBTQ person to serve on the Cupertino City Council when he takes his oath of office at 6 p.m. this Friday, December 9, at Cupertino Community Hall.

The four men's elections bring the number of out LGBTQ city council members on the Peninsula and in the South Bay to nine. James Coleman, who is bisexual, serves on the South San Francisco City Council.

Although he lost his bid to be his city's mayor last month, gay Santa Clara City Councilmember Anthony Becker has two more years left to his current council term. Gay Morgan Hill City Councilmember Rene Spring will also be up for reelection in 2024.

Lesbian San Carlos City Councilmember Laura Parmer-Lohan is departing, as rather than run for reelection this year she sought a San Mateo County supervisor seat. But she lost her race.

Palm Springs Assembly race

With San Bernardino County elections officials posting another vote update Tuesday night, bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege continues to trail in her bid to be the first out state legislator elected from the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca. It has been a roller coaster of a race that's seen Holstege fall in and out of first place over the last month as new vote tallies were announced.

As of the B.A.R.'s print deadline Wednesday, Holstege remained stuck in second place in the race for the open Assembly District 47 seat spanning Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Her Republican opponent, Greg Wallis, was leading by 34 votes, with several thousand ballots still to be counted by San Bernardino election officials.

A new update will come at 4 p.m. December 7. The county has until Thursday to finish its ballot count.

Holstege, a Democrat, is vying to become the 13th member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus in Sacramento and its first bi female member. Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose), who two years ago became the first bisexual elected to the Legislature, took his oath of office for a second time December 5. He is now one the 12 Democratic members of the affinity group for LGBTQ lawmakers.

It marks the caucus' biggest roster of members since its founding in 2002. Accounting for 10% of the Legislature's 120 members, the California LGBTQ caucus is the first of its kind to reach such proportional representation in a U.S. legislature.

In other caucus news, gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) was appointed speaker pro tempore of the California Assembly on Monday. It is the second-highest leadership position in the Legislature's lower chamber.

"Presiding over the California Assembly is a great opportunity and an extreme honor," stated Ward. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure full robust participation working toward the common good for all Californians. Thank you for the privilege to serve as Speaker pro Tempore."

And lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) is now chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus. She noted in a December 6 tweet that its 35 members are a record, and the 21 women in it, according to its online roster, are "the highest number of Latinas in the state's history!"

UPDATED 12/9/22 to correct that there will be nine LGBTQ council members in the Silicon Valley region due to Michael Smith resigning.

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 outcomes of two out-of-state November 8 races that featured candidates with Bay Area ties.

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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