District 6 seat most likely will be the council’s only competitive race

City council candidate says being gay ‘not the issue’

As he’s campaigned, John Boyd hasn’t had any negative reaction from people who learned that he is gay. “It’s not the issue,” he said.

As he’s campaigned, John Boyd hasn’t had any negative reaction from people who learned that he is gay. “It’s not the issue,” he said.

Photo By Larry Dalton

John Boyd probably doesn’t want this article to dwell on it, but next year, he could become the first openly gay member of the Sacramento City Council. That’s incredibly important to some of his supporters, but Boyd isn’t running as a representative of the gay community. Conversely, he isn’t trying to hide anything from voters or act like a different person. He just wants to talk municipal policy. But in his race for the District 6 seat, he’s in the tough position of being what he doesn’t want to be viewed as: the gay candidate.

Boyd’s candidacy may be another milestone—Sacramento has never elected a gay leader—but though he’s not resistant to talking about it in those terms, he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with it, either. Asked about it in his first formal interview as a candidate, he steered the conversation back to things like serving the neighborhoods and his passion for helping people. He said voters want to know less about his orientation and more about what he’d do in office.

“It’s one issue about me that may not become an issue about another candidate,” Boyd said, “which is then, suddenly, there’s this shift that goes more to a deeply personal aspect of my life. So, I just would like to see it not segue down that path, because that’s not serving people of District 6 or the people of this city.”

The March election for the District 6 seat most likely will be the council’s only competitive race next year. Though the filing date is still two weeks off, Boyd almost certainly will face only one other credible candidate: Kevin McCarty, 31, who sits on the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Commission and works as a policy aide to Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante.

Boyd, 34, is a program director at Shriners Hospitals for Children and holds master’s degrees in both clinical psychology and public administration/health administration.

Two others, neighborhood activist Dave Tamayo and political fund-raiser Dan Weitzman, were considering bids but decided not to run. The heavily Democratic district includes Tahoe Park and other neighborhoods south of Highway 50 and east of Stockton Boulevard. Both Boyd and McCarty are young, bright, articulate, liberal Democrats who are active in their respective neighborhood associations and boast résumés packed with accomplishments. On the council, they probably wouldn’t vote any differently, and those watching the race consider them evenly matched.

Because they’re similar, the race won’t be so much about issues. Rather, both candidates are essentially running on their experience, qualifications and commitment to public service. But when issues do come up, McCarty focuses on infill housing, after-school programs and revitalizing the dreary commercial corridor along Stockton Boulevard. McCarty also talks often about growing up in Sacramento, which is a not-too-subtle dig at Boyd, a Carmichael native who lived in the Bay Area for much of his youth. Boyd lists priorities like getting eligible kids into health-care programs and bringing neighborhood-serving businesses to run-down commercial districts.

McCarty does have advantages. He’s taken a lead in fund-raising, and political kingmaker Richie Ross is running his campaign. McCarty is more of a political insider; Bustamante and Ross showed up at his wedding this summer when he married Leticia Garcia, an aide to Democratic Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal. McCarty has worked in the Capitol for a decade and helped run several local political campaigns, including an Assembly bid by Democrat Deborah Ortiz, who’s now a state senator. McCarty’s literature is more slick-looking, and he has the catchphrases and subtle rhetorical flourishes of a candidate down better than Boyd does. One nail that could give McCarty’s appeal a flat tire, however, is that he’s part of an endless line of ambitious, young Capitol staffers who run for local office in Sacramento.

By comparison, Boyd lacks the political pedigree, but he’s more personable than McCarty. Boyd seems more at ease, more engaging and more genuinely enthusiastic. His experience in the health-care and mental-health fields is a good fit for city business, a mix of professional management and community service. Boyd also has hired a big-name Sacramento strategist: political consultant Gale Kaufman. And Boyd has a valuable ally: former Assemblyman Dennis Mangers, who’s now a top lobbyist for the California Cable & Telecommunications Association (CCTA). Mangers, who is gay, represented Orange County in the late 1970s, but in those days, he didn’t make his orientation public. Mangers held a Boyd fund-raiser at his Carmichael home this week.

For the winner, the District 6 seat is a coveted political prize. It has propelled several councilmembers to bigger and better things. Darrell Steinberg represented District 6 before he was elected to the Assembly. Steinberg’s council successor, Dave Jones, is running to replace Steinberg, who is termed out of the Assembly next year. (Steinberg and Jones haven’t endorsed anyone in next year’s council race.) Other seat alumni are Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly and federal Magistrate Judge Kimberly Mueller.

Sam Catalano, one of Boyd’s most enthusiastic supporters, recognizes that a gay candidate must strike a fine balance.

Last year, Catalano helped found the Stonewall Democratic Club of Greater Sacramento to elect gay and lesbian Democrats. Members were thinking long-term, Catalano said, as if it would be several years before they could unite behind a viable candidate. Then Boyd materialized. “It was like, ‘Wow, that was an easy prayer to be answered.’”

The club endorsed Boyd months ago. “We think it’s important to be in the room, to be a part of the community,” Catalano said.

Catalano said Boyd’s first visit to the club was an emotional moment for him and other members. At the same time, he said, members already were discussing how big a deal it would be that their candidate was gay. Some members wanted to broadcast that fact, but others recognized that doing so could be counterproductive. “We’re not going to win by making a big deal out of it. We all know that. But nobody’s trying to hide it,” Catalano said.

He sees it this way: “John is not the gay candidate. He’s the candidate who happens to be gay.”

Boyd agrees. “People are going to characterize my race in all sorts of different ways, but the bottom line comes down to: Am I qualified? Do I have experience?” he said.

The 1999 book Trailblazers: Profiles of America’s Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials identified just 124 openly gay and lesbian elected members of Congress, statehouses, the judiciary, county boards, city councils and school boards.

Ken Yeager, the book’s author, says being the first gay candidate usually generates more media attention, which the candidate doesn’t always appreciate.

“You don’t want to be seen as just single-issue, so it’s a very hard line to walk,” he said. Yeager was the first gay elected official in Santa Clara County, winning a city-college-board seat in 1992 and a San Jose City Council seat in 2000. Even in tolerant, progressive Silicon Valley, he took a couple ugly hits along the way.

“For many gays and lesbians, the reason they get involved in the campaign is to get their first representative on the council, so they very much want it to be more gay-focused,” Yeager said. “It’s different for candidates. How many times do you say in the literature that you’re gay? And for some people, they want it every other word, and there’s other people who say don’t say it at all.”

The concern for gay candidates is that some people may not want to support them because of a perception that the candidate will focus only on gay issues.

He cites Christine Kehoe’s first campaign for San Diego City Council. “It was the same kind of conflict. They’d have these meetings in people’s living rooms and just discuss how gay Chris was going to be. And every time there was an article about her, every other word was that she was a lesbian, and it just drove everybody crazy. They didn’t want that kind of focus. Because the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ are still so charged, and your normal voter just sees that word, and who knows what they think, but it normally isn’t positive. And just because it’s been mentioned elsewhere, they think that the candidate’s only going to focus on those issues,” Yeager said.

“That’s why gay candidates have to focus so much on other issues,” he added. “And their supporters just have to understand that.”

Kehoe, a Democrat, now represents San Diego in the Assembly, and she was sworn in as speaker pro tem in January.

Boyd’s campaign manager, Andrea Jackson, is wary of calling attention to Boyd’s orientation because she doesn’t want it to become a defining issue. She wasn’t excited to learn that it would be the focus of this article.

When Boyd first called her a few months ago, she had no idea who he was. Boyd said a mutual friend recommended that he call her. Jackson isn’t a professional political operative. She started working for Steinberg more than a decade ago when he won the District 6 seat, and today she works as his chief of staff in the Assembly. She’s also a lesbian.

Boyd told her that he was running, and he mentioned that he was gay. But Jackson wasn’t that interested. “I’m not going to help the guy who’s gay because he’s gay,” she said later. “I’m going to help the guy who’s going to leave this district in good hands.”

But Boyd called again and asked to set up a meeting. They met, they talked, and Jackson liked what she saw: someone who reminded her of Steinberg and seemed like a good custodian for the council district. Jackson decided to help him, and she started introducing him to people.

“He’s got the goods,” Jackson said.

Boyd is a political novice, and he’s running on his qualifications. He cites how he’s done everything from managing big capital-improvement projects for the hospital to pulling strings to have poor kids who are sick flown in from overseas. His campaign literature focuses on his health-care background—nothing about being gay.

McCarty said he’s not going to make an issue of his opponent’s orientation, and then he rattled off the names of gay leaders who’ve endorsed him (one is Gilbert Martinez, who works alongside Mangers as a CCTA lobbyist). McCarty added that he’s a big civil-rights proponent and a supporter of domestic-partner benefits and that his father is African-American. He would be “very uncomfortable receiving the support” of anyone who backed him because his opponent is gay.

As he’s campaigned, Boyd said, he hasn’t had any negative reaction from people who have learned he’s gay. “It’s not the issue of the day; it’s not the issue of the campaign. We haven’t had any negatives. It’s been treated as a side note, actually,” he said.

Boyd knows what he’s doing is important to a lot of people, and he’s happy that others find meaning in it. But, though he’s comfortable with having all that emotional energy invested in his effort, he isn’t trying to ascribe a lot of importance to his candidacy.

“There are a lot of people that are having strong reactions to my candidacy. For the gay and lesbian community, it’s, ‘Hey, here’s this guy who’s doing something that some people in our community have seen as a barrier,’” he said.

“Do I see myself as a trailblazer? No, I don’t. I see myself as a guy who wants to get in there, roll up his sleeves, work hard and make improvements and differences in people’s lives,” Boyd said. “And if I do that well, then all the other things that need to happen will happen.”

Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been updated from its print version.