On Nov. 23, Nick Andre was looking at the ballot counts just like he had been doing since the election on Tuesday. He was sitting in the County Clerk’s office when he was handed a piece of paper with the final results of the mayoral election.
Heidi Harmon was spending the evening as she would any other; at home in her sweats. However, her routine was interrupted when Andre, her campaign manager, pulled into her driveway and rushed into the house.
Almost three hours north of San Luis Obispo in Sunnyvale, journalism senior Mallory St George was walking through the door of her home. Instead of greeting her mother like usual, she was glued to her phone crying tears of joy.
Harmon won the mayoral race.
“On some level, I’m still adjusting to the new reality,” Harmon said.
Harmon, a resident of San Luis Obispo for 30 years, has been an early childhood educator, business owner and mother. But this is her first time holding public office.
Her political activism started roughly 10 years ago when she began to advocate for local environmental issues.
“I began to really understand the urgent nature of climate change,” Harmon said.
In 2014, Harmon ran for state assembly, focusing on climate change, campaign finance reform and income equality. She lost the election, but not her passion for activism. She continued to engage in local activism and work with community members in San Luis Obispo.
Her political zeal strengthened when she heard Bernie Sanders speak roughly five months before he announced his run for presidency.
“I knew he was my guy,” said Harmon.
She led the local Sanders campaign in San Luis Obispo and helped register more than 1,000 new voters. She was eventually elected to be a delegate for Sanders at the Democratic National Convention alongside her eventual campaign manager, Nick Andre.
However, after the Democratic National Convention and Sanders’ loss, Harmon said she returned home feeling disappointed.
“I thought about giving politics up all together,” Harmon said. “But I remembered what Bernie had to say and that was go home and run for office.”
Harmon did just that. She won the mayoral race by a margin of 47 votes, overcoming the five percent lead six-year mayoral incumbent Jan Marx had on Nov. 8.
A key component of her bid for mayor was her relationship with Cal Poly students.
“One thing I’ve already done is be really proactive and meaningfully engage with the students,” Harmon said.
St George helped lead student outreach by facilitating Facebook Live events where students could ask Harmon questions and have them answered, during which the two shared a touching moment in front of 27 people.
“We were signing off and we forgot that the camera was there and we just started talking,” St George said. “I was telling her how much she meant to me and then she just started crying and next thing I knew we were both crying and then we realized ‘Oh shoot, there’s 27 people watching us cry right now!’”
Now that she has won the race, Harmon hopes to improve community relations, specifically between students and long-term community members.
“I’m hoping that we can create more opportunities for students who live in neighborhoods to connect with their neighbors,” Harmon said. “The feeling of the neighborhood is gone. I want to find out what we can do to get that feeling back.”
St George believes Harmon is the perfect one for the job.
“I can see her very successfully bridging the gap between students and long-term residents of San Luis Obispo,” St George said. “I think that’s something that — on both sides of the community — people want to have happen.”
Harmon believes more student housing could help facilitate that change.
“I am interested in having some conversation with Cuesta and Cal Poly about housing more students on campus,” Harmon said.
For many of her supporters, Harmon represents a new and positive outlook for politics.
“To be a good anything, you just have to start with being a good person and Heidi is a good person,” St George said. “I know that she shares my progressive values and I want those to come to the places I love.”
A large part of this positivity stems from the way Harmon and her team ran their campaign.
“Heidi, over the entire campaign, wanted to make sure everything stayed positive,” Andre said.
Harmon said she wanted to show people can win on merit and not by demonizing their opponents. During her campaign, she never ran negative ads against candidate Marx.
“That’s just the kind of person I am and want to be,” Harmon said. “It’s commonly held advice that going negative is the way you win, so I think it’s great we won by running that positive campaign.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Harmon is 30 years old. It has been corrected to say she has been a resident of San Luis Obispo for 30 years.