This afternoon, the lesbian and gay employees group at my employer (a large aerospace-defense contractor) sponsored a lunchtime talk with Mike Gin, who was just recently sworn in as mayor of Redondo Beach, after a somewhat contentious election. Gin is a gay Asian Republican ("he's practically his own minority group", as a local columnist quipped), and as unexpected as it is to find those three words together, try adding two more: elected official. Meeting Mike, it's easy to imagine him winning an election. He's studiously polite, humble, easy to talk with, forthright, pragmatic, and competent. He won the election the old-fashioned way: he walked the entire city, met as many residents as he could, listened to their issues, and campaigned on solving problems people cared about. And in Redondo Beach (an LA suburb of 65,000), what people were concerned about was development and land use, their police and fire departments, their schools and their parks, and the local businesses. Gin has been open but low-key about his sexual orientation during two terms on the city council, not wearing his sexuality on his sleeve, but also not sequestering his partner of 10-years at city events. He tells of one phone call with a woman who said "I'm a conservative Christian, and I don't approve of your lifestyle. But that's between you and God on judgment day. As far as this election goes, you're the most qualified candidate, and you're the one I want running my city." He said he had a number of similar calls and comments.
His conservative opponent tried to "play the gay card", but pragmatic Redondo residents weren't biting. One resident told of receiving a call from the opponent's campaign, who boasted of being in favor of "anti-gay measures". "Anti-gang measures?" the resident asked. "No, anti-gay measures," the campaigner replied. To which the bemused resident responded "What on earth does that have to do with this election?"
Partisan politics tried to rear its ugly head, as both Democratic and Republican party organizations got involved in the election. There were originally four candidates running, Gin being one of three Republicans. The Democratic party organization backed the lone Democrat, while the Republican party organization backed the most conservative Republican. Despite having both parties working against him, Gin had a clear plurality in the first election, although not an outright majority. Three recounts had to be held before it was determined that the conservative Republican was the runoff contender. A Republican party group tried to help their candidate by sending out a mailer highlighting campaign contributions Gin had received from out-of-state, with special attention called to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. If anything, this tactic backfired. In a local office, which is a real nuts-and-bolts job, partisan politics just doesn't play. As Gin says, there are no Democratic pot-holes or Republican storm-drains. There's just a pragmatic former engineer wanting to do a good job for his city. Who just happens to be a gay Asian Republican.