It was all hugs and clinking glasses at the corner of 16th and Valencia streets Tuesday night as San Franciscans gathered to watch and celebrate Gov. Gavin Newsom clinching victory in the recall election.
“It’s so sad to see a party imploding. Try again in a couple of decades, Republicans,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, at the election night watch party at Manny’s, a restaurant and community space in the Mission.
Moments later the room erupted in cheers as word trickled in that Newsom was headed toward a smooth path to victory. Within an hour of closing the polls, news analysts began calling a triumph for Newsom, who secured an overwhelming amount of Democratic mail-in votes.
Even as delta variant concerns linger, San Francisco voters wanted to celebrate in person. Just over 100 people showed up to the event to watch the election results unfold; they included city supervisors, local union leaders and voters who stopped by for some company during a nerve-racking hour.
“It’s been a really tough year on so many levels. The pandemic provided an opportunity for people to explore what they couldn’t do in the 2020 election. We defeated Trump in 2020, but not Trumpism,” said David Campos, vice chair of the California Democratic Party.
But it was California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis who shifted the mood from hopeful to victorious.
“We beat the Republican recall. We did it!” she said. “I am delighted. We did what we had to do, we got the message out and ultimately, California’s recognized that the choice here was between our Democratic governor and Donald Trump’s values.” Olga Miranda, regional union president from Service Employees International Union Local 87, echoed the sentiment, saying, “We’re working a hard job, but we came together when we were under attack. It’s been a struggle. But we claimed victory tonight.”
Manny’s has served as a hub for political gatherings in San Francisco, with events featuring San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Julián Castro and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The venue itself also has faced its share of conflict. In 2019, local anti-Zionist activists organized a boycott against the establishment claiming its owner Manny Yekutiel was fueling gentrification with his business.
But the mood on Tuesday was joyous. “Manny, you’ve created a living room for us to be together for this,” said Kounalakis.
“It felt really good to have a packed house. This was the first time we have done that since the pandemic,” said Yekutiel, who donned a blue sequin dress and Cruella-inspired wig while hosting the event.
For guests like Alex Melendrez, the night was reminiscent of the watch parties and organizing events he missed during pandemic-related lockdowns.
“I miss watch parties with other activists. Everybody here has issues that are close to them,” he said, adding that affordable housing and immigration are two that were at the top of his mind when he voted no on the recall.
There’s always room for improvement, but overall he said he is pleased with the steps Newsom has taken to increase the state’s affordable housing stock and make pathways for immigrants in California.
“This state has led the way with support for immigrants and I think Newsom can and will do more,” said Melendrez, who has Mexican and Afghan heritage.
Voters could have chosen between a whopping 46 alternative candidates who made it to the ballot. But one in particular, conservative radio host Larry Elder, emerged as a front-runner.
That quickly became a rallying point for some voters who told The Examiner that Elder’s promise to revoke COVID-19 safety protocols and mandates, as well as his position that employers should be allowed to ask women if they plan to get pregnant, was enough to get them to the polls.
But many voters The Examiner spoke to said they left the replacement candidate question blank, a strategy pushed by Newsom and other Democratic campaign advisors to avoid creating an appealing alternative that could split the Democratic vote, which happened in California’s 2003 recall election.
After downplaying the recall effort for much of 2020 and into 2021, Newsom received a swarm of support from high-profile Democrats in recent weeks, including former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
On Monday, President Joe Biden stopped by Long Beach City College to campaign with Newsom on the eve of the election, warning voters, “You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor, or you’ll get Donald Trump.”
But even before the final count came in, voters on Tuesday were lighthearted and ready to move past yet another recall election in California.
“What is this, like, the sixth recall happening?” event attendee Jorge Ordaz joked. “I’m feeling 100% optimistic. I voted for Gavin and I’ll vote for him again.”
Examiner staff writer Benjamin Schneider contributed to this report.