21-year-old LGBTQ Climate Activist Topples Long-standing S.F. Incumbent

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Harvard University student and climate activist James Coleman made his breakthrough in the political industry by running for South San Francisco’s District Four City Council. Despite his expectation to win the election, the 21-year-old candidate ends up unseating current mayor Rich Garbarino, an 18-year-old office-holder. Due to this triumphant electoral win, Coleman became the council’s first openly LGBTQ and youngest member throughout history.

A political candidate similar to Coleman also won the 2020 elections. Assembly member-elect and recent UC Davis graduate Alex Lee successfully unseated Republican Bob Brunton. Lee is also a bisexual and is part of a leftist campaign during his candidacy. Due to his success in the elections, the young Democrat marked two historical milestones in politics. Lee would be the youngest Asian American state legislator to exist and California’s youngest state legislator after one hundred years.

Both electoral wins are also accomplishments for small-dollar donations’ political power, grassroots movements, and a new channel for the Bay Area local politics’ progressive younger generations.

In the general elections, San Jose’s Lee raised $32,000 donations, while Coleman raised $16,000. Coleman’s campaign donations beat Garbarino’s by $4,000.

Furthermore, a group of about 100 volunteers assisted in supporting Coleman’s campaign by posting flyers and driving from the East Bay to knock on neighborhood homes every weekend. According to Coleman, most of his movement’s campaigners consists of university students. Coleman’s fellow South San Francisco alumna Janetzy Cruz created Coleman’s campaign video, which he recognizes as his movement’s most successful device.

Many of Coleman’s biggest supporters come from his circle of acquaintances, friends, and family members. Coleman’s campaign manager and childhood friend Franchesca Buendia claimed that Coleman’s strength of hearing South citizens’ concerns helped persuade them to support his candidacy. The 20-year-old campaign manager simultaneously helps Coleman with his movement and virtually studies political science at UC Irvine.

According to Coleman, more than 200 people made donations for his political campaign. He also revealed that many of his campaign donors consist of people he asked directly and those who saw his advertisements on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. His campaign volunteers ensured that they called every number in his district several times and left flyers at every door thrice. 

Buendia also revealed that when volunteers canceled at the last minute, Coleman himself dropped campaign leaflets at more than 500 doors. Due to hard work and dedication, Coleman successfully wins the elections and “shows the power of grassroots fundraising.”

Identifying himself as a democratic socialist, Coleman ran on a progressive program that includes organizing universal child care in the preschool system, battling climate change, assisting the community with financial aid, and defunding the city’s police department. According to Coleman, he plans to use the city’s $31 million uncommitted reserves as donations to the city’s homeowners, renters, and small businesses who got severely affected by COVID-19.

According to Coleman, his electoral win as a democratic socialist in a conservative sector, such as District Four, is encouraging. Despite most of San Francisco’s history of the long-term apolitical system, this year’s elections showed progressive support and energy towards candidates like him. 

During his term, Coleman would be working alongside council members Buenaflor Nicolas and Mark Nagales, including current Vice President Mayor Mark Addiego. Nicolas and Nagales were the first Filipinos to hold positions within the council. Additionally, Addiego previously clutched the record of being the council’s youngest member when he got elected in 1980 at 25 years old.

According to Addiego, Coleman’s victory reminded him of when he got elected and became the council’s youngest member in 1980. Furthermore, the public gave him the nickname of “Young Blood” but emphasized that Coleman is the young blood of this current generation.