Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 50 / 14 December 2017
 

Online Extra: Political Notes: Politicos pack into BAYMEC fundraiser

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra delivered the keynote speech at Sunday's BAYMEC brunch gala. Photo: Jo-Lynn Otto
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Thirty-three years ago one elected official showed up to the first event held by the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, an LGBT political group focused on Santa Clara, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties.

At its brunch gala Sunday, October 1 at the GlassHouse in downtown San Jose, more than 40 political leaders in the South Bay, and roughly two dozen candidates for local and state office, introduced themselves to those attending the fundraiser for BAYMEC, which will use the proceeds from the event to help elect LGBT candidates and straight champions of LGBT rights to local office in 2018.

Taking to the stage to end the political conga line, a tradition at BAYMEC's galas, was gay Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager. A co-founder of the group, Yeager in 1992 became the first out LGBT elected official in Santa Clara County when he won a local college board seat.

"I just want to soak this all in," said Yeager, the first and only LGBT person to date to serve on both the San Jose City Council and the county Board of Supervisors. "As the first openly gay elected official in Santa Clara County, I wanted to be the last one to thank you for being here."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra , the keynote speaker of the event, joked after seeing the conga line that, "I thought we might be in violation of the Brown Act," which restricts a majority of the members of an elected body to meet in private. "Don't worry," added Becerra, "your AG has got your back."

Becerra discussed his coming from an immigrant family whose father confronted signs at businesses that said "no dogs, no Latinos allowed" as to why he was one of a handful of Congress members to vote against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It is also partly why he has repeatedly stood up to the discriminatory policies of the Trump administration.

"As the bluest state in the country, we have a job to do. The 21st century is the century of inclusion. We don't want to go backwards to the 20th century like some want to do," said Becerra, who was appointed the state's top law enforcement official by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year to fill the vacancy created by Kamala Harris' election to the U.S. Senate. "I will fight anyone from the alt-right to Donald Trump."

Quoting from the "Gospel of John," i.e. the civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), Becerra added, "It is time for us to get in the way."

He received a standing ovation from the more than 400 people attending the event, which BAYMEC retooled into a daytime fundraiser this year after not holding its traditional dinner last year.

"This is wonderful. BAYMEC is reinvigorated," said Leslie Bulbuk, who spent 12 years on the group's board. "I am thrilled with the rebirth and so proud of all the new board members."

As the Bay Area Reporter has previously noted, the LGBT political action committee was largely absent during the 2016 election cycle, as it failed to release an official endorsement list for any candidates last year. It did donate a total of $2,600 in political contributions split between three candidates running in the Bay Area and mobilized to keep a candidate with anti-LGBT views off the San Jose City Council.

Its narrow focus last year was due to several resignations from BAYMEC's board, leaving it with a limited capacity to engage fully in the numerous political races in the four counties the group focuses on. Rather than a full complement of 17 board members, BAYMEC was down to nine by the start of 2017.

The remaining leaders set out this year to reinvigorate the group, recruiting a full complement of board members and hosting the sold-out brunch.

"I am blown away," BAYMEC President James Gonzales, a San Jose police officer and the department's liaison to the LGBT community, told the B.A.R. "It shows this community is going to stand up for our rights. We are rebuilding, expanding, and redoubling our efforts to make sure we don't lose ground."

Gonzales was unsure just how much money the event had netted for BAYMEC, but with tickets $150 per person and a solicitation for texted donations during the event netting several thousand dollars, it was likely in the range of $60,000 or more.

The funds, said Gonzalez, "will be used in the upcoming election to support LGBT candidates and those supporting the rights of LGBT people. And not just supporters but champions of LGBT rights."

BAYMEC's first president, Rich Gordon , who went on to win election to both the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and the state Assembly, told the B.A.R. that the LGBT community in the South Bay is at a political disadvantage due to its being dispersed across the region and not concentrated in one neighborhood or political district like in San Francisco, where many LGBT voters reside in the city's eighth supervisor district, which includes the gay Castro neighborhood.

"Developing mass can be difficult," said Gordon, who is now president and CEO of the California Forestry Association.

And due to term limits, "Many of us who did get elected were in one-off situations," said Gordon, as their options for seeking higher office when they are termed out are limited if the current officeholder for either a congressional or state Senate seat, as in Gordon's case, is able to seek re-election.

Nonetheless, Gordon said, "In the long run, we are in a great position for seeing LGBT people get elected" to various offices in the South Bay counties.

Among those who will be seeking BAYMEC's support and attended the brunch were gay Watsonville City Councilman Jimmy Dutra , who is seeking to become the first LGBT person to serve on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and Shay Franco-Clausen, a queer woman of color who is running for the open District 9 seat on the San Jose City Council next year.

Should she win, Franco-Clausen, a BAYMEC board member, would be the first female LGBT council member and only the second out LGBT person to win a council race since Yeager won his seat in 2000.

Also at the brunch were the two out candidates running for superintendent of schools for San Mateo County: Gary Waddell, Ph.D., a gay man who is the deputy superintendent of the San Mateo County Office of Education overseeing instructional services and programs, and Nancy Magee, a lesbian and the county education office's associate superintendent for the student services division.

Also networking at the event was Cesar Zepeda , a gay man who plans to run again next November for a seat on the Richmond City Council, having fallen short in his council bid last fall. At the same time, Zepeda is also pushing to establish district-based elections for council seats in the East Bay city rather than citywide.

He told the B.A.R. that supporters of the switch will first try to have the current council approve doing so, and if that fails, they will seek to put it before voters on the November 2018 ballot. Zepeda, chair of the Lambda Democratic Club of Contra Costa County, said residents of Martinez, Concord and three other cities are also looking at electing their council members by district rather than citywide.

"Next year you will see a number of cities in Contra Costa County working on district elections," predicted Zepeda.

The BAYMEC brunch also drew gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who told the B.A.R. his presence did not mean he intended to seek statewide office anytime soon. Instead, he attended the event to build relationships with LGBT leaders outside of his home base who are needed to help pass LGBT legislation in Sacramento.

"It is important in trying to move forward a statewide LGBT agenda for all of us to know each other," said Wiener. "I try to know LGBT leaders from around the state, as we need to have a statewide coalition."

 

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.

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

 






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