Last Tuesday, voters seemed to reject much of the anger and polarisation that Donald Trump has brought in to US politics. Instead, voters elected a diverse range of candidates from progressive backgrounds. The elections, a year after Trump’s victory, saw Montana elect its first black mayor, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor and Charlotte elected its first black female mayor.
Here are some of the faces of America’s new political coalition.
‘We wanted to go to Charlotte with a message of a more accessible, equitable and interconnected city.’
- Police detain Braxton Winston on 25 September 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Braxton Winston: city council at-large in Charlotte, North Carolina
Winston, 34, hadn’t been to a protest before the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina in September 2016. That day, Winston, a videographer by trade, stopped by the apartment complex where the incident occured and started livestreaming what he was seeing as a crowd of police and upset citizens swelled.
Hours later, as residents began clashing with police in the streets, Winston was near the frontlines, continuing to livestream. Shirtless and facing a phalanx of armor-clad police, Winton balled his left hand in a raised fist. A photograph of his defiant gesture went viral not long after and became one of the defining images of the Black Lives Matter era.
It was his engagement with those issues that drove his candidacy for an at-large city council seat in Charlotte, a seat he won on Tuesday running as a Democrat.
“We’re excited. We feel like we ran the campaign that we set out to do,” Winston said after the win, according to Raw Story. “We were very intentional about it from day one. We wanted to go to every part of Charlotte with a clear and consistent message of a more accessible, equitable and interconnected city.”
Winston ran on a progressive platform of raising the city’s minimum wage, the creation of 50,000 affordable housing units and “comprehensive criminal justice reform”.
‘She doesn’t plan on making it home in time to cook dinner any time soon.’
- Ashley Bennett
Ashley Bennett: freeholder in Atlantic County, New Jersey
Bennett was a first-time political candidate in her race for the post of freeholder, which is similar to county commissioner. Her candidacy was born in part out of anger at the current Republican office holder, for a meme he published on Facebook during the January 2017 Women’s March.
The offending image posted by outgoing freeholder John Carman asked mockingly whether the woman-driven protest would be “over in time for them to cook dinner.” Carman eventually apologized for the post, but the wheels were already in motion.
“I was angry about (the Facebook meme), because elected officials shouldn’t be on social media mocking and belittling people who are expressing their concerns about their community and the nation,” said the 32-year-old in an interview before the election.
Bennett, who works as an emergency screener in the crisis department at Cape Regional Hospital, ran on a campaign platform of revitalizing the county economy which has been decimated by lagging tourism in the resort and gambling dependant job center, Atlantic City.
“Ashley Bennett’s victory proved that democracy works best when ordinary people speak out, vote, and run for office,” said Caseen Gaines, who serves as her communications director, in a statement. “Ashley is looking forward to restoring dignity to the freeholder seat. She is ready to put in the hours to improve the lives of everyone in her district – and she doesn’t plan on making it home in time to cook dinner any time soon.”
‘We won’t let hate win.’
- Ravi Bhalla
Ravi Bhalla: mayor in Hoboken, New Jersey
A practicing Sikh who wears a long beard and his hair in a traditional turban, Bhalla was hardly surprised when a leaflet began circulating in his town that put the word TERRORISM in block red letters just above his face.
“Of course this is troubling, but we won’t let hate win,” Bhalla said about the leaflets on Twitter. “At time w/ President…seeking to divide us, it is critical we come together as a community and stand up for American values.”
Bhalla won his bid for mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey Tuesday on a broad progressive platform that includes infrastructure upgrades, creating affordable housing and developing open spaces for the city, which lies just to the west of Manhattan.
As a two-term city council member for Hoboken, Bhalla suffered similar racist abuse. In 2016, when he was serving as president of the council, Bhalla publically forgave a man for calling him a terrorist and said he “shouldn’t even be allowed in the US” in response to an unassuming Twitter post about a city running and bike path. “Sir, I am born & raised in America. You clearly don’t know what it means to be an American,” he fired back.
Bhalla, who grew up in New Jersey Sikh, says the teasing and bullying from other students is a large part of what shaped his worldview and politics. “That always gave me a sense of standing up for the underdog, standing up for minorities… whether it’s immigrants, African Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, Asian Americans,” Bhalla, who is also a civil rights attorney said to NBC News earlier this summer. “Anyone who’s underrepresented, in any sphere of our society, deserves to have their voices heard, deserves to have a seat at the table.”
‘This is what a movement looks like.’
- Larry Krasner
Larry Krasner: district attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As a career defense attorney fixated on civil rights, Krasner sued the Philadelphia Police Department dozens of times. Not long ago the city’s fraternal order of police called his candidacy for district attorney a “joke”. Now victorious, Krasner faces the prospect of working with law enforcement to prosecute cases while at the same time, maintain his position that it’s his job as DA is to police the police when they step out of line.
Krasner has spent decades litigating against the office he is now elected to lead. Put simply: “I’ve spent a career becoming completely unelectable,” Krasner joked at a debate earlier this year. To the contrary, he defeated his Republican challenger by a 3-1 margin.
At his victory party, which he held at an LGBT Community Center, Krasner promised his election would bring “transformational change” to the city’s criminal justice and restore fairness to “a system that has systematically picked on black and brown people”.
The first major plank in Krasner’s campaign platform was to end mass incarceration. The last was: “Resist the Trump Administration.” Black Lives Matter endorsed Krasner, who has defended BLM and Occupy protesters pro bono, but he cautioned his followers that change might not come as they would like. But “this”, he said during his victory speech, “is what a movement looks like.”
‘I believe in strong unions, health care for everybody, and an end to discrimination.’
- Lee Carter
Lee Carter: house of delegates in Richmond, Virginia
When Carter won his election for the Virginia legislature, his supporters launched into song. It wasn’t the Star-Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful as you might expect for a former Marine like Carter. It was the old union anthem Solidarity Forever, perhaps most famously performed by famed leftist activist and musician Pete Seeger.
Carter, who campaigned as a Democratic Socialist, was drawn into electoral politics and his party alignment by the 2016 presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders. “He went out there and said, ‘I’m a democratic socialist. Here’s what that means: It means I believe in strong unions, healthcare for everybody, and an end to discrimination.’ Well, that’s what I believe in, too. I dug a little more into it, and I realized a lot of the problems we have in today’s society reflected in electoral politics are symptoms of economic problems,” he told New Republic.
Carter, who had limited support from the mainstream Democratic party, cruised to victory on a platform expanding Medicaid and criminal justice reform. He’s also pushing for an outright ban on corporate campaign contributions and a limit on individual contributions, both of which are currently unlimited in Virginia.
“For-profit corporations exist to make money,” Carter told the hometown Richmond Times-Dispatch. “So if they’re giving money to a politician, it’s not out of the goodness of their heart. It’s because they’re getting something in return every single time.”
‘I am used to being the first person like me. This is a bigger scale.’
- Phillipe Cunningham
Phillipe Cunningham: city council in Minneapolis, Minnesota
He was the first black student to serve on his student council in high school, so at 30 years old, he’s used to breaking new ground. “There were lots of spaces that I have gone before in which I was the first person like me to do that, and so this feels like a familiar feeling but on an overwhelmingly larger scale,” Cunningham said laughing, after being elected to the Minneapolis city council.
He ran against city council president Barb Johnson, who had held the position since 1997. Cunningham said Johnson offered her full support. Cunningham ran on a platform of increasing access to affordable housing, environmental justice and drawing small business and entrepreneurship to his ward.
A trans man who served as a senior policy aide to Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges, Cunningham is the second trans person of color to win election on the city council, losing the “first” designation to new councilmate Andrea Jenkins by about a half a day.
‘We didn’t shy away from my identity as a black woman, as a trans woman.’
- Andrea Jenkins
Andrea Jenkins: city council in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jenkins, a 56-year-old trans woman, was a first time candidate who had worked for twelve years as a policy aide to two Minneapolis city council members.
“We didn’t shy away from my identity as a black woman, as a trans woman,” Jenkins told Minnesota Public Radio. “I have lived firsthand the oppressions that others only talk about, only think about. But that is not what we led with. That’s not what won us this race,” Jenkins added. Her platform framed all of her key issues in terms of equity: in public safety, transportation, affordable housing and on down the line. “There is a very deep gap between whites and people of color. The disparities are present in healthcare, homeownership, employment… all of these issues,” she said in a campaign video. Minneapolis is one of America’s most racially segregated cities.
“Today is an historic day for all trans people and especially trans people of color,” said Danni Askini, the national co-chair of Breakthrough, a trans political action committee heavily involved in both candidates election. “Our goal was to not just elect Andrea and Phillipe but to permanently expand the electorate by focusing on poor, working class voters.”
Other notable wins (thumbnails)
- Democrat Wilmot Collins became the first black mayor in the history of Montana, which has an African American population of less than 1%. He won his race for the mayorship of Helena, the state capital, running on the “progressive ticket” with two other candidates who also won.
- Democrats Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala became the first two Latina state representatives in the history of Virginia.
- Democrat Vi Lyles became the first black female mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. She ran on a progressive platform aimed at promoting social and economic justice and increasing the city’s minimum wage.
- In Virginia, Democrat Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person to ever be elected to a US state legislature, and the first who was “out” at the time of their election. Roem defeated Republican Bob Marshall, the architect of several pieces of anti-trans legislation during his time in the statehouse.
- Democrat Justin Fairfax became the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia, elected on the same ticket as Ralph Northam who won the Virginia governor’s race.
- Democrat Jenny Durkan was elected mayor of Seattle, making her the city’s first out lesbian mayor, and its first female mayor in nearly a century.
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