John A. Perez beamed as he made his way among the tables at La Fonda restaurant, hugging supporters, friends and family - including cousin Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles, as a mariachi band trumpeted his victory in the background.
Perez, a longtime labor leader, handily won his Democratic primary race in the 46 Assembly District with 4, 299 votes (54.5%). Since his Republican opponent in November only garnered 889 votes, Perez is assumed to be the de facto winner.
When he takes his Assembly seat on Dec. 1 for the start of the 2009-10 session, Perez will be the first openly gay person of color in the California Legislature.
"I'm excited," Perez told me as the votes rolled in. "There is a special magic here tonight. It is highly likely that I will win the primary on the same night that Barack Obama cinched the Democratic presidential nomination. It is a memorable night." (Read his victory speech below)
Earlier in the day, Perez, a Democratic National Committee superdelegate, switched his support from Hillary Clinton to Obama.
Perez was also keenly aware of the importance of his status as an openly gay Latino. "Given the changing demographics in the state, this is significant," Perez said. "In the Latino Caucus, it will really make a huge difference in how we couch the discussion of LGBT issues."
The LGBT Caucus keeps its viability - just barely. With state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (23rd SD) and Assemblymember John Laird (27th AD) termed-out, the caucus will be back down to four members.
Perez will join San Diego's Christine Kehoe, who won re-election and Mark Leno, the author and driving force behind the marriage bill who was termed out and soundly defeated incumbent Carole Migden in the San Francisco-area Third Senate District. Migden, a longtime Democratic politico and author of the state's Domestic Partnership Registry, has been an elected official since 1990.
San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano had no rival for Leno's 13th Assembly seat, and with 41, 446 votes to the Republican's 3,347 votes, Ammiano is also a de facto winner.
Unfortunately, other LGBT candidates did not fare so well. Former Deputy State Controller Laurette Healey was defeated in what some regarded as a personal grudge-match between to straight men with connections to a powerful political "machine" - Bob Blumenfield won that 40th AD race. In the 8th AD, West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was well-liked - but he got slammed hard by Mariko Yamada, who won by 1,048 votes. In the 80th AD - Cathedral City Councilmember Greg Pettis lost in a heavily Republican district. And in the 14th AD, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington came in third.
Progress was made on other fronts, however. Though she did not win, openly transgender Superior Court judge candidate Victoria Kolakowski won more than 20 percent of the vote in her first election campaign for public office in Alameda County. Kolakowski, a longtime LGBT community leader, attorney and judge, was the first judicial candidate ever endorsed by Equality California political action committee, EQCA reported.
"As an openly transgender woman in a crowded field of high-qualified opponents, Victoria ran an admirable campaign," EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors said in a statement. "Her leadership is an inspiration for transgender youth and adults throughout the world."
And overall, the election was LGBT-positive.
"Voters clearly want government leaders who bring communities together and treat everyone equally...Candidates who support full equality, including the fundamental freedom to marry for lesbian and gay couples, were the obvious winners in yesterday's Primary Election. Californians are tired of divisive politics and candidates who are selective in their support of our state's diverse communities."
Herewith John A. Perez's Election Night victory speech:
My mother often said "Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres". "You are known by the company you keep." And looking around this room, she would be very proud of the company I keep. I want to thank each of you for sharing this incredible and joyous evening with me.
Around this room are people who have known me since I was little and people I've only come to know in the last few months. I can't help but feel touched by the warmth, affection and commitment you all have shown me throughout this campaign.
It's standard in a victory speech to thank all of the important people and powerful groups that contributed to the victory. So in that vein, let me begin by thanking the dozens of high school students, neighborhood moms, union members and friends, who gave of their time, their money and their hearts to make sure I could stand here tonight on the verge of becoming the next Assembly Member from the 46th Assembly District.
I know those are not the important people one usually thinks of when giving a victory speech - but to me and to my campaign, they are the most important people in this room tonight.
Para todos mis voluntarios, familia y amigos gracias por todo su apoyo y amor.
I also need to say a word about the best campaign team a candidate could hope for. Nick, Francis, Matt, Rich, Nicole and Enrique - you all have been extraordinary, and these days you feel more like family than a campaign team.
A campaign is never easy - the late nights and the early mornings; the 7-day weeks; the candidate's demands at all hours of the day. You all were there for me every step of the way, and I couldn't have gotten to this point without you.
To the hundreds of people who invested in this campaign and who have offered me your advice and counsel along the way, I am deeply grateful. The trust and generosity you have shown me is overwhelming.
The most touching and emotional part of my campaign has been watching as people from across the community have made time to walk precincts, call their neighbors, pass out literature and do all of the things that make a grassroots campaign successful.
High school students who are notoriously disinterested in politics and civic affairs have connected with me because they know I will fight to ensure that each and every one of them has the chance to go to college or trade school and has a shot at the American dream. Neighborhood moms have stepped up because they understand my commitment to making high quality health care available and to assuring our schools provide their kids with hope and opportunity for the future. The neighborhood abuelitas have come to understand my dedication to ensuring that they can afford their medications and that their rent control is protected.
It is you who allowed me to have the kind of campaign that I wanted, a campaign that listened to the people of the 46th District. We heard from the working families of Boyle Heights, Maywood, Vernon, Huntington Park and Los Angeles - we heard their hopes and their concerns; the issues they care about and the solutions they seek.
After spending months meeting with the people of this district - I realize that the needs of this community are far greater than I had ever imagined when I began.
That realization, however, does not deter me. It makes my commitment to this community even stronger.
Deciding to run for this seat was very personal to me. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and my parents were working folks like so many of the residents of the 46th - and like so many of you here tonight. They worked hard each and every day to make a home for their family and to give their kids a good education. They struggled at times to make ends meet. But they instilled the values of fairness, justice, hard work and service in each of us.
My parents are only here with me in spirit tonight, but I hope that my campaign has made them proud. My mother always said "Whatever you do John, be the best. If you make life better for others, you will make life better for yourself."
And my commitment to my mother and to you is to always do just that.
I have tried to live by the values that my parents taught me, through my 25 years of involvement in Democratic campaigns and progressive causes and as a member of the labor movement for more than 15 years. Throughout these years, I have fought to make life better for working men and women, to expand the availability of healthcare, to ensure a livable wage and to end discrimination throughout our society.
Some of these fights have been tough. The Grocery Workers strike in 2003 and 2004 was particularly grueling and emotional. I spent long days, and even longer nights, on picket lines with Grocery Workers who were risking everything to forge a better life for themselves and their co-workers.
I saw mothers and fathers go without paychecks and put everything on the line so they might have access to health care.
I watched individuals taken to jail rather than compromise on the principles of fairness for which they were fighting.
These are the people who caused me to run. These are the people who brought me to this stage today. And these are the people I will fight for every day in the State Assembly.
I am not running for the Assembly to be powerful, or to be important, or because I believe that I deserve to be there.
I am running because I believe that I have the ability to help make life better and to bring positive change to this community.
So I pledge to you tonight that I will be a leader that listens to you. Who does not forget where he came from, who works every day to improve the lives of the working families of the 46th District.
I need you to remind me what this community needs. To come to me with your problems and your solutions. To be a partner with me in representing this district.
Tonight signals an end to the primary, but the beginning of a much longer journey - a journey to make the values of working men and women from this district heard in Sacramento.
So it is with the memory of my parents, my commitment to working families, and a belief in the people of our great state that I accept this nomination tonight.
The real work begins tomorrow!
Juntos todo es posible!