It’s not hyperbolic to state that last night’s mayoral election was historic—after all, Long Beach welcomes its first openly gay, its first Latino and its youngest mayor ever after the city elected current Vice Mayor Robert Garcia to the top spot.
With a 17.6% voter turnout—practically matching the 17.5% turnout for the primaries, which some considered disappointing—Garcia scored 52.1% of the vote, or what amounted to 23,296 votes.
Garcia’s opponent, the relatively unknown Damon Dunn, was the wildcard of the race—something even his supporters noted.
“I am looking forward to new things and he is a newcomer to Long Beach so to speak,” said Dunn supporter and Long Beach resident Rosie Chaney. “That’s why I supported him. It doesn’t matter to me how long someone has lived in the city or where they come from. They could have even been born in another country. But if you live in this city now and you have a love for this city and a love of people, and want to make a better society, well… That’s what important; not how long you lived here.”
Dunn, a former NFL football player and one-time candidate for secretary of state, moved to Long Beach two and a half years ago, yet his quick political ascension told a tale of a city divided as he outperfomred veteran politicians Bonnie Lowenthal and Gerrie Schipske in the primaries—all without a single day of experience in Long Beach politics or partaking in a single civic election.
“The only way we were able to build a large enough base was to walk, knock and talk,” Dunn said about his door-to-door campaign strategy. “I think we connected with people and because of that we were able to have some success.”
The personal connections Dunn spoke of were evident at his election night party. What seemed like an endless stream of friends, famlily and supporters flowed through the doors at The Grand Event Center and Dunn was front and center, embracing them personally.
Despite a demanding campaign that included plenty of mudslinging from both camps, Dunn said that he and Garcia have developed a relationship that he hopes will continue past election night. To Dunn, this was just a natural end to a process, and he noted that the decisions the voters made is one he will respect.
“The story shouldn’t be the divisions or the negatives that came out of this, it should be about ‘if Robert is Mayor, I’ll support him,'” Dunn said. “If he wants me to serve in any capacity, I will do so gladly. It’s about bringing Long Beach back together and healing through this processs.”
That processs came at a record price tag. Before narrowing down to Garcia and Dunn, the mayoral seat had 10 candidates who spent $2.8M combined. Dunn was a big contibutor to that total, having spent $700K from his own pocket.
Dominic Lopez, a volunteer and supporter of Garcia’s campaign, was quick to criticize Dunn’s spending, believing that Dunn’s campaign was unethical given that he “pays for his support because he has the money,” while Garcia’s campaign was volunteer-based.
“It’s like Robert knows Long Beach: he lives here, he was educated here, and he gets it,” Lopez said. “It’s not about the connections; it’s about the heart… Dunn doesn’t have volunteers; he pays everybody. Money doesn’t buy everything. I’ve been in here for four months, volunteering day in and day out and didn’t ask for a dollar. I just know Robert is the best candidate for Long Beach.”
Beyond the social significance of Garcia’s win, the mayoral election’s regional reach was wider than ever as Los Angeles paid attention to the election in ways that supersedes previous years. While Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s endorsement of Garcia was a given due to party affiliation (both are Democrats), his appearance at Garcia’s election party last night marked a true bonding of the two cities in way previously unseen.
“Together we stand united,” Garcetti told the crowd of supporters at the Queen Mary, which acted as Garcia’s party headquarters. “The rivalry between Los Angeles and Long Beach is over.”
While a true end to the rivalry Garcetti spoke of still remains to be seen, one thing Long Beach residents can enjoy seeing the end of is the overtly negative campaign ads that plagued the mailboxes of voters. From dives into personal finances to jabs about past affiliations, the campaign’s pejorative turn turned off voters and commentators alike.
“Move onto the issues!” yelled one audience member at the duo’s first major debate in May when the question of campaign tactics was addressed—a sentiment that was shared across comment boards and social media feeds.
The election parties at both the Garcia and Dunn camps were filled with hopeful yet nervous supporters, most of whom were glued to projectors displaying the city’s polling results. The race, much like April’s primary, remained close throughout the evening. It wasn’t until the parties started to wind down that it became clear Garcia would be the next mayor of Long Beach.
As Garcia’s supporters started to file out of the Queen Mary around 1AM, the city’s website updated the latest poll results showing Garcia with over a 4% lead and only 11 precincts unaccounted for. Everyone leaving in building, including Garcia, knew at that point his victory was mostly a formality. As he was consumed by the remaining supporters’ hugs and celebrations, Garcia tried to make his way to his family. But first, he took time to reflect on the race that some would argue was as divisie as it was competitive.
“Regardless of who you supported, we need to come together as a city and move Long Beach in the right direction,” Garcia said.