Long Beach City Councilman Robert Garcia made history Tuesday night when he narrowly defeated businessman Damon Dunn in the race for mayor to become the first Latino, the first openly gay candidate and the youngest person to be mayor of Long Beach.
"I think you run, not necessarily to be the first, I know that there are certainly historical implications of my election," Garcia said. "I’m in this to be mayor of everyone, no matter the age or the color of their skin or who they love."
Garcia believes the city’s diversity is one of its assets.
"We have one of the largest Cambodian communities outside of Cambodia, a large Latino community, a large LGBT population, and we have everyone. I really think that’s what makes Long Beach strong," Garcia said.
Garcia received 52 percent of the votes cast Tuesday, with about 1,900 more people voting for him than for Dunn. He will replace current mayor Bob Foster. Today’s election was a runoff after the two competed with eight others in the primary election.
Both candidates would have made history if elected. Dunn, a former professional football player and real estate investor, would have become the first African-American to hold the position.
"It says a lot about the city of Long Beach, about the diversity, about the open-mindedness to have the two candidates that we have that made the runoff," Dunn said.
Garcia was born in Peru and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 5 years old. He grew up in Covina and was the first person in his family to graduate from college, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Long Beach State and his master’s from USC. He has been on the Long Beach City Council since 2009.
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"This is kind of like what you would say, the American dream I am actually living, whether he wins or not, I already feel a winner," Garcia’s mother said Tuesday night.
"To see my mom work so hard, she worked at thrift stores and working at small jobs, cleaning homes, and to see me go to college, be the first in my family to go to college, and now here…I just felt like I needed to this," Garcia said. "I felt that the city was ready to take that step forward."
While Garcia noted that his election has historical value for certain groups, he believes the best way to govern is to think about everyone in his jurisdiction.
"For me it’s really about making sure we stick to what the issues are. The issues in Long Beach are ensuring that we stay financially responsible, that we grow the port in an environmentally-friendly way, that we’re working with our employees to improve services, and that we’re a city that’s supporting people and that we’re bringing business," Garcia said.
When asked what Garcia plans to focus on during his first 100 days in office, the mayor-elect says he plans to focus on building a strong budget and restoring services lost such as library hours and park programs.
“It’s also going to be about a new strategic era for the city, we’re gonna be doing strategic planning for our educational partners, for our business team, our economic team, and I wanna hire also the best and the brightest, Garcia said. “Long Beach is going to be poised to continue doing really great work, growing the port, bringing in new partners, working with people like Mayor Eric Garcetti and others to really put Long Beach in that next step.”