Historic local elections show the power of voters

Credit: Art Editor Credit: Art Editor

After the elections of 2016, it would be easy to become disillusioned with the idea of representation, to begin doubting that your vote can make a difference. But after a hard year of unethical policies and unintelligible claims from the government, this year’s elections across the country have brought some much-needed hope to America. Those elected to office include many Democrats as well as many firsts, from the first black mayor in a number of towns and cities, to the first Latina and Asian American women, to the first transgender people, all serving in various states and even nationally.

In Framingham, MA, Yvonne Spicer is not only the first black female mayor but also the first mayor in Framingham’s 317-year history, as the residents narrowly voted to change from a town to a city form of government in April. At 39.1 percent, voter turnout was a record high for the last 25 years in this historic election, and Spicer won with 58 percent of the vote. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Spicer has a doctorate in educational leadership and works to build capacity for STEM programs in schools. She will take office on Jan. 1, 2018.

Vi Lyles will become Charlotte, NC’s first black female mayor as well — with 58 percent of the vote, she easily beat her Republican opponent Kenny Smith. Over the past three decades, she has served as a budget official and assistant city manager in city hall. North Carolina had a high voter turnout as well — for this election, it was about 20 percent, which was higher than the predicted rate.

Jonathan McCollar will become the first black mayor of Statesboro, GA, unseating the current mayor with his progressive platform and 52 percent of the vote. Cairo, GA. also voted for their first black mayor: Booker Gainor, who is only 28 years old. Brendon Barber and Ailment Collins became the first black mayors of Georgetown, SC and Helena, MO respectively. And in Milledgeville, GA, Mary Parham-Copelan won the election for mayor by a margin of only six votes, making her the first woman and African American to be elected mayor.

Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala became the first two Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, also turning their districts from Republican to Democrat. Guzman immigrated from Peru to create a better life for her children, pursuing first a community college degree and then several others. Ayala is a cybersecurity specialist who was involved in organizing the Women’s March last January. She supports raising minimum wage, equal pay and access to health care for everyone, and increasing the percentage of women in government to ensure all voices are heard.

Kathy Tran, the first Asian American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, fled Vietnam with her parents when she was a baby. She supports strengthening public schools, the economy, and environmental protection, preventing gun violence, and immigration reform. Ravinder Bhalla, who was elected the mayor of Hoboken, became the first Sikh mayor in all of New Jersey. He wants to upgrade Hoboken’s infrastructure, balance the budget, and push for environmentally sustainable policies to help residents in both the short and long terms.

Jenny Durkan previously made history as the first gay U.S. attorney in American history, and has now become the first lesbian mayor in Seattle. Some of her goals are to create affordable housing, help the homeless, and reform the criminal justice system. Zachary DeWolf, Seattle’s first openly gay school board member, wants to close the gap created by differences in individual students' circumstances, and create a safe environment for everyone to learn.

In Provo City, Utah, Michelle Kaufusi will be sworn in as the first female mayor on Dec. 5. She emphasizes strength when considering issues, and intends to focus on creating strong neighborhoods, strong budgets and other forms of fiscal management, a strong economy through businesses, and strong engagement from all residents.

In the Virgina state senate, Democrat Danica Roem became one of the country’s first transgender elected officials — she defeated Republican Rob Marshall, who has been elected 13 times in 26 years, wrote Virginia’s discriminatory “bathroom bill,” and referred to Roem with incorrect pronouns throughout the election cycle while at the same time refusing to debate with her. She plans to focus on four things: a traffic problem that arises during rush hour, increasing and improving jobs by conducting studies and raising minimum wage, aiding schools by bringing in more commercial taxes, alleviating overcrowding, and increasing teacher pay, and striving toward equality for those of different religions, races, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities.

In addition, Andrea Jenkins, who has been elected to the Minneapolis City Council, is the first black, openly-transgender woman ever elected to a public office. She is a poet, activist, and historian, and curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota.

Despite the discouraging claims and actions that have been put forth by our national government over the past few months, it is uplifting to see an effort to incorporate so much diversity into our local elections. The people elected to these offices can have meaningful impact on our day-to-day lives, and Americans have shown through our votes the issues that are important to us as a nation to address. Voters being aware of current events and showing up to cast their ballots played an important role in bringing about this change — it is important to remember the ways we can shape policy and make a difference as we move forward into the future.