Sacramento is one step closer to electing its first openly gay City Council member.
Steve Hansen, a biotechnology senior manager and a former vice chair of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, received the most votes in Tuesday's primary election in the district representing downtown, midtown and Land Park.
Hansen failed to collect 50 percent of the vote, however, and will face Land Park architect and former city planning commissioner Joe Yee in the November runoff election. Fewer than 100 votes separated Hansen and Yee at last count, setting up what will likely be an intense campaign this fall.
Special interest groups were already divided among a field of seven candidates this spring. The seat is being vacated by Councilman Rob Fong and is considered among the most high-profile districts in the city.
Yee has the support of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, Local 39 which is City Hall's largest union and council members Sandy Sheedy, Kevin McCarty and Darrell Fong. While Yee spent less than three other candidates in the race, he was lauded for a door-to-door campaign that helped him dominate much of Land Park.
On the other side, the Stonewall Democrats, a gay rights advocacy group and among the largest Democratic clubs in the region, has made it a priority to get Hansen elected. Club members canvassed the district this spring and the organization was one of the first to endorse Hansen.
"It's kind of a shock that we're in the 21st century and there are no LGBT elected officials in Sacramento," said Neil Pople, the communications chair for the Stonewall Democrats. "We have a lot of good allies, but it comes to a point in the movement when you need your own voice."
Ben Phillips-Lesenana, a board member of the Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce political action committee, called Hansen "an outstanding candidate."
Hansen recognizes the importance of the election, telling supporters at an election night party that "this community knows a lot about pride."
"We're really, really proud of what the community has done to make this happen," he said during a speech at Headhunters, a nightclub in midtown's Lavender Heights district.
Stonewall and other gay rights advocates see the council district as an opportunity.
Those groups fought hard during last year's City Council redistricting process to have downtown and midtown consolidated into a single district, hoping that aligning those two gay-friendly neighborhoods with a socially liberal neighborhood such as Land Park would open the door for a gay candidate to win a seat at City Hall.
According to election results analyzed by The Bee, Hansen received 36 percent of the vote in the downtown and midtown grid, bringing in nearly three times the votes as Yee in some precincts. Yee got 22 percent of the vote in the central city.
It was a different picture in Land Park, where Yee collected 35 percent of the vote and defeated Hansen in every precinct. Hansen ended up with 23 percent of the Land Park vote.
Yee said the support he received from interest groups was important but that "if you don't connect to voters, if they feel that you don't care and don't understand, I think the endorsements lose some of their impacts."
"Talking to people for eight months is important," he said. "It's fundamental."