Political Notebook: Sacto elects first out city council member
by Matthew S. Bajko
The news he had been patiently waiting for since Election Day finally came mid-afternoon Friday, November 30. The Sacramento County registrar of voters declared Steve Hansen the winner in a close contest for a Sacramento City Council seat.
When he is sworn into office Tuesday, December 11 Hansen will become the first openly LGBT person to serve on the Sacramento council. At age 33, he will also be the youngest person currently serving on the council.
After the polls closed November 6 Hansen had a mere 28-vote lead based on the early tally. By last week his margin of victory over his opponent, Planning Commissioner Joseph Yee, had grown to 173 votes.
Fittingly, Hansen learned about his breaking through the political lavender ceiling while attending the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's Leadership Conference, held this year in Long Beach.
"What it means is that Sacramento is continuing to be a progressive, thoughtful city that values its rich diversity. There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come," said Hansen, a senior regional manager at Genentech. "I don't think anybody elected me because I was gay. They did so because they liked my ideas."
Yet, for some time now, the LGBT community in the state's capital has wanted to see one of its own elected to the council. And Hansen drew wide support from LGBT leaders and residents in Sacramento.
"What it took was the right person to be the first one," said former Orange County Assemblyman Dennis Mangers , 72, who came out as gay after leaving the Legislature in 1981 and has remained in Sacramento.
Mangers first met Hansen 10 years ago when he hired him for a job with the California Cable and Telecommunications Association. He will co-emcee Hansen's post swearing-in party next week with gay West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.
"It will be emotional for those of us in the LGBT community here. This is a realization of a dream and we have no lack of confidence he is the right person," said Mangers.
One key to Hansen's success was his running in a newly created council district centered in downtown Sacramento.
For years most of Sacramento's LGBT residents, centered in downtown neighborhoods, had been carved up into different council districts, weakening their ability to vote as a bloc.
When the city redrew council boundaries in 2011, Hansen turned the decennial process to his advantage. He landed a seat on the redistricting committee and helped push through a new map that created a downtown district with many LGBT voters.
According to the Sacramento Bee , Hansen's win marks the first time in 30 years that a downtown resident has been elected to the city council.
In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter this week, Hansen acknowledged that the redrawn district helped win him the seat.
"People who felt they hadn't been enfranchised before now had an opportunity to have a voice that could be heard in City Hall," said Hansen.
For now Hansen is keeping quiet on what his first priorities will be on the council. He said he wouldn't disclose any policy proposals until after he his swearing-in ceremony.
One idea he will be pushing to implement is the creation of an innovation fund that can be used to incubate new businesses. He is donating his council salary of $61,000 as seed money for the initiative.
"The biggest issue facing Sacramento is jobs and the economy," said Hansen, who will continue working at Genentech as the council position is considered to be part-time. "We have to figure out how to make the city more competitive and regrow jobs we have lost."
Another challenge for the councilman-elect will be proving that he can work collegially with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson , who did not endorse his candidacy, and his board colleagues.
Hansen has been critical about what he sees as a dysfunctional relationship among the city's leaders and pledged during the campaign to change the tone at City Hall.
"I want to work with all my council colleagues. I do," he said. "I want to build the city up. The only way to do that is to not make it personal and stick to the issues. We have had way too much of the personality politics stuff and getting sidetracked when we have serious problems."
The mayor and his board colleagues have sent him congratulatory messages since Friday, but Hansen has yet to speak with them in person as he is in Washington, D.C. for work this week.
He told the B.A.R. that he does differ with Johnson on granting the mayor more power and does not support adopting a strong mayor initiative.
"The mayor may have his ideas, but I have not changed my position and I don't find that to be the conversation our city should be having," said Hansen.
Out lawmakers given leadership posts
A number of out lawmakers moved into leadership roles this week, both in Sacramento and at the city level.
Tuesday night the Campbell City Council elected Vice Mayor Evan Low to serve as mayor and Councilman Rich Waterman as the new vice mayor. The council rotates the mayoral seat amongst itself each year, and Low previously served in the role in 2010.
Monday the San Diego City Council elected Councilman Todd Gloria as the first openly gay man to be council president. The president, whose term lasts 12 months, sets the council's agendas and presides over its meetings.
Also that day returning gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) announced his new leadership team for the 2013-2014 legislative session. Lesbian San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, elected last month to a second term, is now the majority floor leader.
Freshman lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) is chair of the Assembly's Agriculture Committee, a powerful post for the Central Valley lawmaker, while gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) now chairs the Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.
Gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) will continue to chair the high-profile Public Safety Committee.
Lesbian named acting SF assessor
With the departure this week of Phil Ting , who was sworn in Monday as a freshman state Assemblyman, talk has turned to who will be named San Francisco's new assessor-recorder.
Mayor Ed Lee has the power to fill the vacancy, and speculation has centered on District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu being given the post. Media reports last week indicated that Lee would hold off on appointing Chu until early January as that would guarantee Chu's board replacement could serve for nearly a decade.
If Chu were to leave the board prior to January 9, then her replacement would be capped at serving six years due to the rules governing board vacancies. Special elections for both assessor-recorder and the D4 supervisor seat, should Chu indeed leave the board, would be held on the November 2013 ballot.
While the mayor mulls what to do, Ting named his deputy assessor-recorder Zoon Nguyen as acting assessor-recorder. Nguyen, 48, an out lesbian and longtime LGBT rights advocate in San Francisco, is raising two children in the Castro with her partner, Cathy Halligan.
It is believed to be the first time an out LGBT person has held the assessor-recorder position. Nguyen, who served on the board of the LGBT Community Center a decade ago, joined Ting's staff in 2006 as one of his three deputies, serving as the second-in-command. Ting first spoke to her about being acting assessor-recorder after the November 6 election.
Asked by the B.A.R. this week if she had spoken to Lee about being appointed to the position full-time, Nguyen responded, "I am so enjoying this honor right now. It is not up to me, it is up to the mayor. It really is the will of the mayor."
Nguyen did say that "at this point," she has "no plans to run" for election to the position.
As for Ting, he was named this week to a top leadership post in the state Assembly. He will serve as the Democratic Caucus Chair in the Legislature's lower chamber.
He is hosting an inauguration reception Friday, December 7 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in his district office in the Hiram W. Johnson State Building, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, room 3173.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on a $1 million gift to the AIDS Emergency Fund.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.