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Nonbinary, Gay, Mixed-Race, Dem Socialist Candidates Win in Bay Area

Smith Coleman Espinoza

From left: Michael Smith, James Coleman, and Lissette Espinoza-Garnica bring new diversity to city councils in the Bay Area.

Two city councils in the San Francisco Bay Area just got a little more diverse with the election of gay, bisexual, and nonbinary members, all people of color.

James Coleman, 21, elected to the South San Francisco City Council, will be the first member of the LGBTQ+ community and the youngest person ever to serve on the council. Running in the city’s District 4, he defeated Rich Garbarino, who has been on the council for 18 years and is currently mayor; the mayor is selected by council members.

Coleman, who is bisexual and mixed-race (his mother is Chinese-American, his father white), is a democratic socialist who “ran on a progressive platform that includes working to combat climate change, establishing universal child care in the preschool system, working to defund the city Police Department and assisting the community financially,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. (South San Francisco, located in San Mateo County, is a separate city from S.F.)

“While South San Francisco has been largely apolitical for much of its history, in my opinion, [this election] showed there’s a lot of progressive energy and progressive support that really has not been activated for a long time,” he told the Chronicle. “District 4 is probably the most conservative district in our city, and seeing how a democratic socialist can win … is really encouraging.”

Coleman is a student at Harvard University but was home in South San Francisco for several months this year due to the campus closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harvard reopened over Labor Day, and Coleman finished campaigning from his dorm room there, but he will be taking classes from home the rest of the academic year and will graduate in May. He will be sworn in December 8.

In nearby Redwood City, voters elected their council’s first nonbinary and gay members.

Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, 24, is also the first nonbinary person elected to office in the Bay Area overall, according to The Bay Area Reporter. Espinoza-Garnica is a queer Chicanx, a lifelong resident of Redwood City, and a graduate of Santa Clara University.

The young progressive identifies as a democratic socialist but ran with no party affiliation. The city recently changed from at-large to district-based voting, and Espinoza-Garnica defeated incumbent Janet Borgens in the District 3 race.

Espinoza-Garnica supports rent control, reducing the city’s police budget, addressing climate change, and financial assistance to residents and small businesses affected by the pandemic.

Michael Smith, a gay Black entrepreneur, was unopposed in his race for the council seat in Redwood City’s newly created District 4. He has cofounded three businesses in the area and is a member of the Redwood City Planning Commission. He is a Connecticut native and Yale University graduate who has worked for major corporations in New York City and South Korea; he moved to the Bay Area in 2016.

His priorities include combating climate change, addressing homelessness, and advocating for affordable housing. He and Espinoza-Garnica will be sworn in December 7.

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