While local media and L.A. political leaders are bemoaning the city's embarrassingly low voter turnout on Election Day, something quite positive, even historic, happened last Tuesday night: Gay candidates across Los Angeles kicked butt.
Many gay politicos can't think of an election in Los Angeles history in which so many gay men — who aren't in the closet, anyway — finished first in their respective races. In fact, longtime L.A. gay rights activist Miki Jackson, who worked closely with gay rights icon Morris Kight, calls it a “high water mark.”
Mike Bonin won a City Council seat outright, Mitch O'Farrell placed first in his City Council primary and heads to a runoff, and Ron Galperin finished number one in the City Controller contest and goes to a runoff. In addition, many local Republicans embraced Kevin James' mayoral candidacy, with the gay Republican finishing an impressive third in a race filled with Democrats. With all this happening in the country's second largest city, their success is further proof of a developing “Gay Okay” trend in American politics.
“It's definitely a more tolerant time and climate for gays and lesbians to be elected to the body politic,” political analyst Jaime Regalado tells L.A. Weekly. “Recent state and national polling reflect this increased positive change in attitude on the part of likely voters on issues of gay marriage; apparently the comfort zone of straight voters with gay candidates has also increased.”
Los Angeles-based gay rights activist and Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs says that Tuesday's strong showing by Bonin and crew “means that gay is normal, at least in LA. And that, to me, is the best news we could have.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Michael Weinstein, who's worked on the front lines of the gay rights movement in Los Angeles for decades, says, “These guys do so well because they were seen as representing the community's interests against entrenched interests. Many of the people who voted for them didn't know or care that they were gay. That is what equality looks like.”
These gay candidates, in other words, actually stand for something. How refreshing for a politician? But it shouldn't be surprising since gay folks have been taking stands for decades with the risky act of coming out to friends, family, strangers, and employers. Whenever someone takes that step, one never knows exactly how people will react. But coming out is usually done because a person feels compelled to stand up for, and live out, one's true self.
The no-big-deal attitude towards a candidate's sexual orientation may explain why L.A.'s Big Gay Election Night on Tuesday wasn't mentioned much by the local mainstream press. But it should be noted for the record so people know that something very real and exciting is brewing in American politics. Don't forget the old saw, “As goes California, so goes the country.”
People in Europe certainly think it's noteworthy. With the headline “Gay Los Angeles City Council Candidate Elected,” Mike Bonin's victory was trumpeted by Pink News, Europe's largest gay news service.
Bonin, a top City Council aide, won his race in Council District 11 and will replace his boss, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who's also gay. Wining 61 percent of the vote, Bonin blew away the competition and avoids a runoff.
Mitch O'Farrell, who was a top aide to Councilman Eric Garcetti, placed first in an extremely competitive race in Council District 13, which is considered one of the top political jobs in California.
Two of the past three District 13 council members — Michael Woo in 1993 and Eric Garcetti in 2013 — made strong runs for mayor and former Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, a lesbian, went on to serve in the state legislature.
O'Farrell edged out candidate John Choi, who's backed by the L.A. County Federation of Labor, considered one of the most powerful political machines in Los Angeles. O'Farrell didn't get over 50 percent of the vote, so he'll face Choi in the May 21 runoff.
In the City Controller race, Ron Galperin finished ahead of Councilman Dennis Zine in a squeaker. Since neither man got more than 50 percent, they'll also face each other in May. Zine had raised $811,303 to Galperin's $362,727 for the primary, but Galperin still placed first.
And Republican voters and big wigs did not dump on Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James, who is a gay Republican. In fact, he was embraced by Republican power broker Fred Davis, who created a super PAC for James, and Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, a major Republican donor who gave that super PAC at least $100,00. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city, James finished an impressive third to primary winners and Democrats Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti.
James also got endorsed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who's another Republican.
These strong showings in Los Angeles only further underline a national trend that it's becoming increasingly okay to be gay and run for office. Last November, in an historic night, there were huge wins by gay candidates and pro-gay marriage campaigns across the country.
Which leads to something else: Now it's really silly, even not cool, for gay politicians, particularly in Los Angeles, to remain hiding in the closet.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.