Echoing the pattern across the nation, San Luis Obispo’s midterm election brought about notable firsts, including the first time San Luis Obispo City Council will consist of four women. It is also believed that Erica Stewart is the first Black woman to serve on the San Luis Obispo City Council.
Mayor Heidi Harmon was reelected and received 60.65 percent of votes according to the County of San Luis Obispo. Carlyn Christianson was also reelected for San Luis Obispo City Council and received 27.19 percent of votes, followed by Stewart who received 20.93 percent of votes.
Stewart said she was both excited and shocked when she heard the tentative election results. She said she remembers feeling particularly inspired to run for city council when she heard former United States President Barack Obama’s farewell speech, in which he said “be the change”. Despite this not being a new sentiment, Stewart said it was especially resonant.
Before running for city council, she trained with Emerge California, a program with a mission “to increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds in public office through recruitment, training and providing a powerful network,” according to their website.
Stewart has served as the Cal Poly Director of Parent and Student Philanthropy since 2016 and will start a new position as the Associate Director of Personnel and Marketing for Campus Health and Wellbeing this week. She said she does not believe the position will conflict with serving on city council, and if city council ever has to vote on something specific in her department, she would recuse herself.
“I think the key is for anyone that works in a state, city, county or other public sector job, is you are being paid through public dollars. So you have to respectful of making sure that the time is separate,” Stewart said.
As a Cal Poly alumna and employee, Stewart said she aims to figure out how to better reach students.
“Not every single issue probably matters to students, I get that. But there are issues that affect the students and when those come about what’s the best way to really get feedback and input?” Stewart said.
Believed to be the first black woman to serve on San Luis Obispo’s City Council, Stewart said she hopes to serve as someone young women of color can relate to and see themselves in.
“When I was a kid, I don’t know how old I was, but still barbie-age, so barbies were out all over. And I remember going into this one department store… and I saw the Whitney doll, and it wasn’t Whitney like Whitney Houston, it was just called Whitney. And it was the first African American doll I had ever seen,” Stewart said. “I remember thinking like oh my gosh, someone that has my hair. I mean she was much darker than me but it was just something I could relate to, where I couldn’t relate to the other barbies.”
The results of the national midterm election included milestones such as the election of the first openly gay man as governor, the first Native American congresswomen and the first Muslim congresswomen, amongst many others.
Ultimately, Stewart said the milestones that have been reached locally and nationally demonstrate that running for office and getting involved in politics isn’t as foreign anymore, especially with the prevalence of social media.
“It’s a concept that you can be a part of change. If you don’t like something, be a part of changing it. People are not going to sit back anymore,” Stewart said.
Harmon said the national trends suggest Americans are in the middle of a huge political shift, which is reflected on a local level as well.
“It’s a mandate, and it’s not a mandate just for me, of course. It’s a mandate for the policies that we’ve been supporting. It’s a mandate for inclusivity, it’s a mandate for other modes of transportation. It’s a mandate for supporting bicycle transportation, it’s a mandate for prioritizing climate change. It’s really a mandate for a new, fresh, inclusive vision of San Luis Obispo.” Harmon said.
Harmon also said that more representation in politics demonstrates that the United States is not just a country for white affluent men, but a country for everyone.
Christianson agreed that the election results both nationally and locally indicate a political change.
“After the dark Trump, the last two years of the Trump presidency, they’re a ray of hope that not only will good people run but that the voters will actually elect them. It to me means that the pendulum has swung over as far as its gonna go in one direction and now we get to have it swing back again,” Christianson said.
She added that just because someone is a woman or is part of a marginalized group does not necessarily mean that their politics are automatically better, but that she is confident the four council women and councilman Aaron Gomez are taking San Luis Obispo in the right direction.
Christianson said she hopes to continue working on housing and transportation issues as a city council member. She said tackling these issues simultaneously in a way that is both “environmentally and resource wise” inevitably leads to tackling climate action as well.
Harmon will be releasing a list of goals in front of San Luis Obispo City Hall at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13. The goals will pertain to the following topics: energy conservation, affordable housing and development, economic prosperity and opportunity, democracy and civic engagement and diversity and inclusivity.