By Sam Catania
26-year-old political newcomer Antonio López — a first-year modern thought and literature Ph.D. student — won East Palo Alto’s third city council seat on Thursday. López won by 69 votes — a margin of about 0.4% — after trailing on election night. As votes continued to be counted, he slowly edged out a lead.
López will join the council as its youngest member and will replace incumbent Larry James Moody, whom López beat by about 837 votes. Incumbents Lisa Gauthier and Carlos Romero were reelected to their third terms.
López officially declared victory in a poetic Monday speech he broadcasted on Facebook.
“It is a bittersweet feeling to have any sense of celebration knowing that East Palo Alto, the only place I’ve called home all my life, is hurting,” he told his supporters in the video.
Asked what he attributed his campaign’s success to, López said “canvassing was … number one.” He and his team of high school staffers knocked on 50 doors nearly every weekday evening in the lead up to election day.
“We met everyone and anyone who was willing to open their door,” López told The Daily.
López focused his campaign on generational change and ran on a platform of increasing opportunities for young people in particular.
“We, as East Palo Altoans are fighting to see if Silicon Valley will live up to its creed, to see which one is more valuable: the iPhone 12, or kids finishing grade 12,” he said in his video message to supporters.
Important to him was the housing crisis and bridging an ethnic divide between Black and Latino communities within the city, which he called a “mandate” by voters. López says he also plans to find strategies to mitigate unemployment.
As part of his broader goal of bringing “fresh” perspectives from youths to the city government, López brought on high school students as campaign staffers earlier this year. He said he was excited about what his win meant for them.
“They’re ecstatic,” he said. He said he told the students that their experience helping a political newcomer win in a race against incumbents would open doors for them.
Moving forward, López called for unity and bridge building.
“I’m going to be someone who’s going to be always accessible and available and transparent with the community,” he said. “I’m not gonna be a stranger.”
Time will tell if López can accomplish his progressive agenda, but another councilmember expressed optimism. “I think it’ll be exciting working with someone who’s young and energetic and clearly has a progressive bent,” Romero told Palo Alto Online in November, saying that three progressives on the council would allow them to address equity and social-economic issues during the pandemic.
López said he was ready to get to work.
“I didn’t run to remind people of where we are,” he told The Daily. “I ran because I want to show where we could be. The goal of this campaign was not to get elected; it was to remind our youth: you can and will make a difference in this community.”