Georgette Gomez recalls seeing the effects of economic inequality at a young age when she was bused from her working-class San Diego neighborhood to attend school in a more affluent area.
"My grocery store was a liquor store," she says. "My playground park was surrounded by freeways." That wasn't the case in the area where she went to school, and she saw that government can make a difference in those situations.
That led Gomez into activism as a community organizer for an environmental justice group, then into politics as a member and eventually president of the San Diego City Council, a post she holds currently (she has also been board chair for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System). Now she's running for the U.S. House of Representatives in a bid to become the first Latinx member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to Congress.
Gomez, who identifies as queer, is running in California's 53rd Congressional District, where longtime Democratic Rep. Susan Davis is retiring. The state has a "top two" system, meaning that the two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party, so Gomez is facing a fellow Democrat, Sara Jacobs, a nonprofit executive who worked in President Obama's administration and was a policy adviser to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
In addition to environmental justice -- making sure poor people don't bear the brunt of pollution, and promoting cleaner air and water for everyone -- Gomez's priorities include affordable housing, police reform, investment in jobs and education, assistance to those hurt economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, making health insurance more widely available (she supports expanding the Affordable Care Act but has an ultimate goal of Medicare for All), and, naturally, LGBTQ+ equality, along with the rights of immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized groups.
"I think it's a great opportunity to advance the conversation on universal health care right now," she says, noting that the pandemic has exposed many economic inequalities, including lack of access to health care. She also wants to assure that health care expansion is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender people, who are often left out.
She has fought for these and related causes locally through her nonprofit work and on the City Council, where she's served since 2016, but she wants to do that on the national level now. "I knew that all of these discourses lead to D.C.," she says.
She's a native of San Diego, one of three children of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Her father worked as a gardener, and her mother took minimum-wage jobs. "My mom taught us to value the importance of education," she says, and Gomez went on to earn a degree in environmental and natural resource geography from San Diego State University.
Jacobs, a fellow San Diego native, takes stances on issues that are similar to Gomez's, including strong support for LGBTQ+ rights. Jacobs, a straight woman, is on the board of Equality California, and she has one sibling who is nonbinary and another who is transgender. Like Gomez, she supports Medicare for All, criminal justice reform, and other progressive causes.
But Gomez says the difference between the two is experience, as Jacobs has not held elected office. "It's important that we elect someone with a record of leadership in getting things done," she says. She points to the City Council's adoption of an ordinance making it illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants based on how they pay their rent -- for instance, if they pay with vouchers issued under Section 8, a federal assistance program. The state of California has gone on to pass a similar law, she notes.
While she's been on the City Council, San Diego has opened the first housing development dedicated to LGBTQ+ seniors, she adds. The council has also passed police reform laws, including a ban on chokeholds, taken steps to protect health during the pandemic and address its economic consequences, and begun implementing a climate action plan with the ultimate goal of the city clean energy exclusively.
"Transforming the conversation at City Hall has not been easy," Gomez says, but she adds that she has managed to do so, working with people from different parties and ideologies.
She also notes the importance of representation. "We know that representation matters because if we're not at the table, we're not being talked about," she says.
A September poll had Jacobs leading Gomez 38 percent to 24 percent, but 38 percent of respondents remained undecided, so anything can happen in the race. Gomez has numerous high-profile endorsements. Organizations supporting her candidacy include the LGBTQ Victory Fund, the Equality Federation, the California Democratic Party, and labor and environmental groups, while individual endorsers include two former presidential candidates -- U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders -- and out elected officials, such as Congress members David Cicilline, Mark Pocan, and Mark Takano, and California Assemblymember Todd Gloria, who is running for San Diego mayor.
She weathered some bad publicity recently when it was revealed she had failed to report $100,000 in income on her 2017 tax returns. She released a statement saying that her accountant had made an error and that she had filed a corrected return and paid the back taxes.
She remains optimistic going into the election. "My campaign and our volunteers are working hard and connecting with voters to remind them what's at stake this election and the progress we're fighting for," she says. "I'm inspired by the number of San Diegans who have already cast their ballots or made a plan to vote by November 3. From now until Election Day, we are bringing the energy to reach voters in every corner of the district.
"My campaign has contacted hundreds of thousands of voters and we know that when they learn of the results I've delivered for San Diego as City Council president, they're eager to support my campaign because they want to see this type of effective leadership in Congress."