Long Beach

Long Beach Just Elected Its First Black Mayor. Its First LGBTQ+ Mayor is Going to Congress

If you're not a Long Beach resident, or even if you are, you may not know about the tangled and fascinating civic history of Mayor-Elect Rex Richardson and Congressman-elect Robert Garcia.

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Robert Garcia is mayor of Long Beach, but not for long. With last week’s midterm victory, Garcia, 44, is headed to D.C. as congressman-elect of the 42nd district. He’ll be the first immigrant and openly LGBTQ+ representative in the House.

Also not in his current post for long? The vice-mayor of Long Beach, Rex Richardson.

Mayor-elect Richardson, 39, will be the first Black mayor to helm the port city when he is sworn in Dec. 20.

Democrat candidate Robert Garcia projected as winner of the 42nd Congressional District. Garcia becomes the first LGBTQ immigrant to serve in Congress.

It is almost fitting that Richardson would follow Garcia into the mayor's office. They attended the same high school; Richardson enrolled at Covina High one year after Garcia’s graduation. Garcia was elected student body president at CSU Long Beach in 2000; five years later, Richardson held that post at CSU Dominguez Hills.

Garcia was elected mayor of Long Beach in 2014. He was sworn in by Vice-President Kamala Harris, then California attorney general. Richardson was also on the stage that day, sworn in, at 32, as the youngest-ever elected member to the Long Beach City Council. Garcia had previously been the youngest to hold that post when he was 36.

Richardson said it was second nature to embrace one thing he and Garcia had in common– their youth.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17, 2022 - - Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass and Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who is running for mayor of Long Beach, raise their hands together at a rally and BBQ at the headquarters for The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO to help mobilize for this election season in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 17, 2022. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“On that day in 2014, the average age of our city council and mayorship dropped by a decade,” Richardson told NBCLA, in an exclusive interview, pre-election day. 

“I think we began to create a modern city that communicates with its residents and acknowledges and leads with equity and makes, smart investments in the future. And that’s been good."

Garcia was also in the council-elected position of vice mayorship, when he ran for mayor in 2014, on the endorsement of then-Mayor Bob Foster.

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Long Beach, CA - January 11: Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia speaks during a press conference held as U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined other city and state in Long Beach on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. (Photo by Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

When he decided to back Richardson to succeed him as mayor, he noted their friendship and the similar vision they’d honed after eight years leading Long Beach.

“I think we’re both progressive and we both believe the role of government is to actually help people,” Garcia said.

Garcia was a big proponent of encouraging vaccinations among Long Beach residents during the pandemic. He lost his mom and stepdad to COVID.

Prior to the official results being released, Garcia said he was excited about the opportunity to help elect Long Beach’s first Black mayor.

“Personally, Rex is just an affable guy. You know, a nice guy, hard working and honest, just a really solid person. And those are things that are valuable to me."

With [our city], and so many other cities that have a history of serious institutional racism, there's an opportunity for a real turning of the page. I'm excited about that beyond the incredible experiences he’ll have as mayor.

Robert Garcia

With both Long Beach officials now preparing for their next political challenge, they say being the first won’t be a distraction.

“Folks in the city have seen me grow up and develop my leadership and service to the city," Richardson said.

Richardson says he’ll just continue to tap into the strong roots he’s laid in the city over the past dozen years.

"So, while it's important to me and not lost on me that young people in the city, who have never had a mayor that looks like them, will be able to look at the leader of their city and see themselves, what's most important is what we do with the responsibilities that are given to us,” Richardson said.

NBC4’s Conan Nolan talks with LA’s newest member of Congress, Robert Garcia, the Mayor of Long Beach and the first LGBTQ immigrant to win a seat in the House of Representatives.

“Being the first comes with an additional set of responsibilities, for sure,” said Garcia. “If you're the first one, it’s important to work hard and to make those communities proud. As mayor, I was the first person of color to be elected city wide and certainly the first LGBTQ person, the first Latino.”

Garcia is married to California State University, Long Beach, professor Matthew Mendez Garcia. He emigrated from Peru at the age of 5.

“Those were all things that were heavy on me coming in, but, at the end of the day, I just leaned on doing the best job I could for all communities. I think I have a unique perspective as an immigrant, as a gay person, that I hope to bring to the Congress," Garcia said.

The mayor of Long Beach Robert Garcia lost his mom and stepdad to COVID. Conan Nolan reports March 19, 2021.

Neither Garcia nor Richardson has ever lost an election.

That should bring a sense of confidence as they enter their next elected office with the increased visibility, and responsibility of being the first.

Rex Richardson
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