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Robert Garcia becomes first Latino mayor of Long Beach

Robert Garcia greets people at a Long beach coffee house, a day after being elected mayor.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Long Beach elected its first openly gay and first Latino mayor Tuesday when City Councilman Robert Garcia narrowly defeated real estate investor Damon Dunn in an expensive race that broke city records for election spending.

Garcia, who joined the City Council in 2009, will also be the city’s youngest-ever mayor.

“I’m incredibly grateful and honored to have been elected,” Garcia said Wednesday morning. “While I understand the historical implications of the win, I’m looking forward to being mayor for all of Long Beach. We are ready to get to work.”

Dunn, who would have been the city’s first black mayor, congratulated Garcia on his victory.

“He will be a fantastic mayor. The city of Long Beach is lucky to have him,” Dunn said. “This is Robert’s moment and he deserves it.”

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Dunn’s concession ended a long, expensive campaign that at one point included 10 candidates and prompted more than $2.8 million in spending, a city record.

The race remained too close to call late into the evening, with returns showing Garcia up by just 300 votes for much of the night.

“It’s too tight. Ugly tight,” one Garcia supporter said as she sipped a drink early in the night. Would-be revelers were visibly anxious, keeping close eye on the projector displaying the results.

Dunn, a former NFL player and one-time candidate for secretary of state, was perceived to have a disadvantage as a relative newcomer to the city and a former registered Republican in a blue-leaning city.

(Garcia was also a registered Republican until 2007, when he switched his party affiliation to Democrat, a move he has explained by saying his entire family became Republican after gaining citizenship under President’s Reagan’s term.)

In addition, several candidates had split the progressive vote in the city’s April primary, votes that a number of political observers assumed would easily go to Garcia.

But Dunn proved to be a formidable candidate, pouring $700,000 of his own money into the race, earning endorsements from the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its firefighters union, and, as he has repeatedly said, “personally knocking on 12,000 doors.”

A couple of hours after the polls closed, Dunn sat crunching the latest numbers on his smartphone outside his election party. “Very optimistic,” he said before turning to hug another supporter.

“Oh, my god, look how close it is!” said one woman inside as she turned her eyes to the results on the wall. Near the bar, jaws dropped as partygoers realized the vote was nearly 50-50.

But by early Wednesday morning, results showed Garcia forging ahead by 1,000 votes, prompting a crowd of Garcia supporters to erupt in cheers.

Garcia appeared on stage, reluctant to declare an all-out victory, but one of his supporters was not so shy.

“I used to do a lot of election statistics,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who endorsed Garcia. “You’d have to have a pretty crazy city to turn this around.”

Garcia and Garcetti vowed a “regional leadership” with greater cooperation between Long Beach and Los Angeles.

“The days of Long Beach and L.A. having a rivalry and fighting with each other are over,” Garcetti said.

As it became clearer that Dunn would not make up the deficit, Garcia rose to thank supporters, and in particular organized labor groups, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect him.

“Long Beach will continue to be a place that supports working people,” Garcia said.


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