These Historic Wins from the 2017 Election Prove That Americans Are Excited About Diversity
Yesterday’s elections weren’t just a watershed for transgender candidates. The day was also a massive win for the embattled Democratic party. After facing devastating losses during the 2016 election, Tuesday night’s results show that Americans, by and large, are excited about diversity — and the results prove it. Local elections ushered in victories from a former Liberian refugee, the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and so many more.
In New Jersey, Ravi Bhalla was elected the first ever Sikh mayor of Hoboken, and one of the first turbaned Sikhs to become the mayor of any US city. He overcame a campaign challenged by many racist accusations, including people charging him with terrorism.
Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh-American professor and influential Twitter persona, tweeted of Bhalla’s win: “My heart is so happy. The Sikh American community has endured so much. Our parents’ generation could not have imagined this when they first immigrated here. And now, here we are.”
Meanwhile, in Helena, Montana, Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins became the first Black mayor in the state’s history. He’s also the first new mayor in 16 years in Helena, after a long campaign where Collins promoted progressive values. Fleeing civil war in his home country 23 years ago, Collins previously worked for the state’s Health and Human Services department, focusing on child welfare.
Tuesday’s election also saw Jenny Durkan become the first out lesbian Mayor of Seattle — and the city’s first woman mayor, period, since the 1920s. A former federal prosecutor, Durkan won with 61 percent of the vote and is the only out lesbian mayor in the country apart from Jackie Biskupski in Salt Lake City. Durkan hopes to work with the city to reduce homelessness and create a city income tax to help fund new projects in the municipality.
Vi Lyles made history in North Carolina as the first ever Black woman to be elected mayor of the city of Charlotte. Lyles’ victory comes in spite of a smear campaign waged against the now-mayor-elect by her GOP opponent which, among other things, alleged that Lyles was to blame for the city’s rising homicide rates. Even though the negative ads bothered her, she remained optimistic.
“When my kids Google my name, those ads come up. Did it bother me? Yes. The thought does cross your mind (about responding negatively). But I committed to a positive campaign. You have to be who you are,” Lyles told The Charlotte Observer.
Over in Georgia, the city of Midgeville elected Mary Parham Copelan to become the first Black woman mayor in the state’s history. After winning by six (!!) votes, this political newcomer isn’t afraid to rock the boat. Her opponent, incumbent Gary Thrower, was elected by special election just two years ago, but even he is excited to support Copelan.
“At some point in time, I’m going to sit down with Ms. Copelan and show her everything I’ve got, try to explain everything that I do, try to put her in positions that she’ll succeed. We’re all in this together,” Thrower said to a local TV station. “She’s what the people decided they want as their leader for this community and I’m going to try to be a good citizen to support her.”
Speaking of firsts, Joyce Craig became the first woman mayor ever elected in Manchester, New Hampshire. She won handily with over 1,500 more votes than her competition, 16-year incumbent Mayor Ted Gatsas.
Over on the opposite side of the country, Santa Barbara, CA elected the city’s first ever Latina mayor, Cathy Murillo. Like Lyles, Murillo wanted to run a positive campaign, which she says netted her “positive results.” During her acceptance speech, she spoke of her immigrant grandmother, who would counsel young neighbors to get out and vote as soon as they turned 18, and said she hopes to unite everyone in order to get more done for the city of Santa Barbara.
Along with Roem’s groundbreaking win, Virginia elected Hala Ayala as the state’s first Latina to the House of Delegates. She was quickly joined by Elizabeth Guzman, who flipped her district from GOP to Dem, and Kathy Tran, a Vietnamese refugee. In a statement, Ayala said she was looking forward to continuing her work for fair and equal representation in the House.
Virginia also elected the state’s second Black lieutenant governor since the Civil War, Justin Fairfax. During the campaign, his opponent accused him of not being able to “talk intelligently” on matters of state, which drew the of ire of many supporters — Fairfax is a former federal prosecutor and white-collar defense attorney for the state.
In other LGBTQ+ candidate victories, Lisa Middleton won a seat in Palm Springs City Council, making her the first openly transgender non-judicial elected official in California. She has lived in California for her entire life, and worked at various government and non-governmental organizations for over 30 years.
Over in Philadelphia, the city elected Larry Krasner, an ultra-progressive DA who has sued the police department 75 times, and was nicknamed the “Black Lives Matter” candidate. In the past, Krasner has joked that his super left-wing ideals made him “unelectable,” but his determination to end mass incarceration means his focus isn’t just on the judicial system, but on everything that could shape laws in the future.
Krasner’s goals include less jail time for first-time drug offenders, and other justice system reforms including the elimination of cash bail requests for nonviolent offenders and nixing the possibility of pursuing the death penalty.
Like Virginia, New Jersey is also celebrating the state’s first Black woman lieutenant governor in Sheila Oliver. With more than 12 years working at the state level, Oliver said during the campaign, “I certainly have relationships with 119 members of the state Legislature. And to run an effective government and to get things done, you need to cooperate in the state Senate, the general assembly and the executive branch.”
Over in Iowa, Mazahir Salih is the first ever Sudanese woman to be elected to any public office outside of her home country. A former community organizer, Salih said she would like to work with the Iowa City Council at-large to improve Sunday service for those who rely on public transit to get to and from work — something the city’s working class has been lacking.
“I think low-wage workers, they need transportation on Sunday, after hours like second shift,” Salih, told theIowa Gazette. “While I talk to people in this community, some people have great ideas but they cannot participate in, like, City Council meetings, school board meetings because transportation ends early in some parts of the city.”
While some GOP candidates have been called out for racist campaign tactics against their opponents of color, the more division they promoted, the more handily it appears they were defeated. With huge wins for Arab Americans, LGBTQ+ candidates, and people of color, Tuesday’s elections have inspired hope about the outcomes of the 2018 federal midterms.
Though news outlets have predicted that the Republican party will retain power during next year’s election, the 2017 results show that the very people most negatively affected by changes brought about by the Trump administration are the same voters coming out in droves to stand up and speak out for equality.
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(Featured photo via Facebook)