Barrier-breaking candidates won races across the country on Election Day this year. The results were a parade of “firsts” from New Hampshire to North Carolina to Montana as women, people of color, and LGBTQ candidates became the first to win elections in their respective contests.
Cities in Minnesota and Montana elected their first black mayors, and Charlotte, North Carolina, elected a black woman as mayor for the first time. Virginia elected its first Latina and Asian-American delegates. Transgender candidates won races in Virginia, Minnesota, California, and Pennsylvania.
Tuesday was a big night for Democrats — and these historic “firsts” show that the party can run a diverse slate of candidates and win.
Virginia breaks all kinds of barriers
Virginia’s governor’s race may have been the top story of the night, but elsewhere, candidates for state and local office were pulling off historic wins.
- LGBTQ candidates made history: Democrat Danica Roem became the state’s first transgender lawmaker (beating the incumbent Republican lawmaker who drafted a “bathroom bill” to stop transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity), while Democrat Dawn Adams became the state’s first openly lesbian candidate elected to the House of Delegates. When Roem was asked about her opponent Robert Marshall last night, she said simply, “I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.”
- Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, two Democrats who defeated incumbent Republicans, became the state’s first Latina delegates, and Kathy Tran became Virginia’s first female Asian-American delegate, beating a Republican for an open seat.
Virginia also made national news for electing its first Democratic Socialist, Lee Carter, to office. Carter’s win in the state’s 50th District, which includes the northern city of Manassas, was all the more notable given he beat Virginia’s House Majority Whip Delegate Jackson H. Miller.
Minneapolis and St. Paul make history
Andrea Jenkins became America’s first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office on Tuesday, as Minneapolis voters elected her to the city council. Jenkins captured more than two-thirds of the vote in the city’s Eighth Ward, which was previously held by a council member Jenkins used to work for.
To all of my Trans & Gender Diverse family, I see you, I hear you & I will be there for you. We must resist. We must be intersectional!— Andrea Jenkins (@andreaforward8) February 23, 2017
“Transgender people have been here forever, and black transgender people have been here forever,” she told the Washington Post Tuesday night. “I’m really proud to have achieved that status, and I look forward to more trans people joining me in elected office, and all other kinds of leadership roles in our society.”
Across the river in St. Paul, voters elected their first African-American mayor by a decisive margin. Melvin Carter, 38, emerged from a crowded field of 10 candidates.
“I’m thrilled. I’m elated. I’m humbled,” he told his supporters Tuesday night.
Montana elects its first black mayor, a refugee from Liberia
Voters in Helena, Montana, the state’s capital, elected progressive candidate Wilmot Collins as mayor last night, unseating incumbent Jim Smith, who had held the office since 2001.
Collins and his wife Maddie came to the United States as refugees from Liberia in the 1990s, escaping that country’s brutal civil war. They were resettled in Helena, and Collins eventually went to work for the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The people of Helena have spoken, and I am honored to be able to serve them,” Collins said during his victory party, according to the local newspaper the Independent Record. “I intend to work with commissioners, work for the people of Helena and find what is best for this city.”
Charlotte voters elect their first African-American female mayor
Democrat Vi Lyles cruised to victory over Republican Kenny Smith to become Charlotte, North Carolina’s first African-American female mayor. Lyles is a progressive candidate who served as a city official for decades, first as budget official and then as assistant city manager, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“It’s a gift for me to be able to serve this city,” she told the newspaper after her win.
New Jersey elects its first Sikh mayor
Democrat Ravinder Bhalla, a two-term city councilman in Hoboken, New Jersey, is headed to the mayor’s office after sitting mayor Dawn Zimmer announced she wouldn’t seek another term. Bhalla is an attorney and civil rights activist.
Bhalla won despite an anonymous racist flyer calling him a terrorist being distributed to local voters in Edison Township. Similar ads targeting local Asian-American and Indian-American candidates for school board were distributed ahead of Tuesday, urging the candidates to be “deported” to “Make Edison Great Again.”
In a Twitter post responding to the flyers, Bhalla wrote, “We won’t let hate win.”
Women make history in New Hampshire cities
In Manchester, New Hampshire, Democrat Joyce Craig beat longtime Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas, becoming the first female mayor in New Hampshire’s largest city.
“I’m so proud, I’m humbled,” Craig told WMUR News 9. “I love that young women and girls now see that this is an opportunity that’s available to them.”
And in neighboring Nashua, the Granite State’s second-largest city, voters elected Shoshanna Kelly as a city alderman, the first woman of color elected in the city’s history.
Other notable races:
- In Topeka, Kansas, Michelle De La Isla became the city’s first Hispanic mayor and the second woman to be elected to the office.
- Transgender candidate Lisa Middleton was elected to the Palm Springs, California, City Council, becoming the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in the state.
- Transgender candidate Tyler Titus won a seat on the school board in Erie, Pennsylvania, becoming the first transgender person elected to office in the state.
- Seattle elected its first openly lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan.
- Mary Parham-Copelan, who is black, became Milledgeville, Georgia’s first female mayor.
- Statesboro, Georgia; Cairo, Georgia; and Georgetown, South Carolina, all elected their first African-American mayors: Jonathan McCollar, Booker Gainor, and Brendon Barber, respectively.
- Cathy Murillo was elected the first Latina mayor of Santa Barbara, California.