After being elected on April 13, 2009 to fill the seat vacated by Bonnie Lowenthal, Garcia became the youngest person, the first Latino male, and the first gay person of color to be elected to the Long Beach City Council.
In 2014 Garcia ran for Mayor of Long Beach. He qualified for the runoff by finishing first in the primary election. He won the mayoral election on June 3, 2014 with 52.1% of the vote, defeating Damon Dunn. Garcia was the first openly gay person to be elected Mayor of Long Beach.
Garcia was born on December 2, 1977 in Lima, Peru. He immigrated to the United States with his mother at age 5. His mother and aunt worked in many jobs, including as housekeepers, to support the family. Garcia attended California State University, Long Beach, where he became President of the Associated Students, was an active member of the Delta Chi fraternity and graduated with a degree in Communication Studies. He continued his education at the University of Southern California, where he received a Master's Degree, and later became Public Information Officer at Long Beach City College. Garcia received his Ed.D. in Educational Policy from California State University, Long Beach, in June 2010. He has taught courses in Communication and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, California State University, Long Beach, and Long Beach City College. He is fully bilingual, speaking, reading and writing both English and Spanish fluently.
Originally a Republican, Garcia served as California Youth Coalition Coordinator for the 2000 George W. Bush presidential campaign while in college.
In 2005, he founded and was president of the Long Beach Young Republicans; he worked as chief of staff for Long Beach City Councilmember Frank Colonna and ran Colonna's 2006 mayoral campaign. Garcia changed his party to Democratic around 2007. In 2007, Garcia founded the Long Beach Post, a website devoted to local news and sports reporting. The site soon became popular with local political figures and community leaders and gave Garcia increased local prominence. Garcia, with other area residents, founded the North Pine Neighborhood Alliance in 2008 to advocate for the needs of downtown residents and businesses.
In 2009, Garcia defeated six other candidates, including a former First District Councilmember, to win the seat vacated when Bonnie Lowenthal was elected to the California State Assembly in 2008. He was reelected in April 2010 by a margin of more than 40 percentage points. In July 2012, he was unanimously elected to a two-year term as Vice Mayor by the City Council, becoming the first Latino Vice Mayor in Long Beach and the youngest in the City's history (Press Telegram, July 18, 2012). In January 2013, Garcia was appointed to the California Coastal Commission. In July 2013, after Bob Foster announced he would not seek re-election, Garcia entered the race for Long Beach Mayor. Upon being installed as Mayor, Garcia had to leave the Coastal Commission, which does not allow charter Mayors to serve as members.
Garcia has authored or cosponsored more than 20 pieces of legislation, including the City's first Equal Benefits Ordinance, a ban on smoking at bus stops and at farmers' markets, a proposal to extend increased preferences to veterans in civil service hiring, and a broad-ranging arts initiative that eliminated restrictions on street performances, and reduced the business license tax for artists and other home-based businesses.
Garcia showed support for both the business community and labor unions, voting to support Project Labor Agreements at the Long Beach Airport, Port of Long Beach and for the Gerald Desmond Bridge, supporting the expansion of the Middle Harbor Terminal, and working to improve infrastructure in commercial corridors. He has shown interest in government reform and fiscal accountability, and supported the City Manager's efforts to consolidate departments.
Garcia arranged the leasing of City land to a local charter school for use as a working educational farm. He also arranged the painting of a huge mural by local artists on the façade of the vacant Press-Telegram lofts in downtown Long Beach. Garcia has received some national attention for his socially progressive views and the culturally diverse communities he represents, being young, Latino and gay. Garcia was featured in [CNN]'s 2009 special "Latino in America," and was named to the "40 under 40 list" by the national gay news magazine The Advocate.
Garcia's support of the 2010 Long Beach Downtown Community Plan was criticized by some affordable housing advocates, who argued that the plan should be delayed to perform an economic study on affordable housing incentives. In response, Garcia argued that delaying the plan would be costly to the city, and that the economic study could be done separately. The plan passed the City Council, 7-2.
In July 2013, Garcia announced his candidacy for Mayor of Long Beach. He received 25.4% of the vote in the April 8, 2014 election, finishing first in a field of 10 mayoral candidates. In the runoff election between Garcia and fellow candidate Damon Dunn (22.3% of the vote) on June 3, Garcia won with 52% of the vote, and took office on July 15, 2014
Garcia's first 100 days as Mayor were characterized by a focus on education and seating commissioners to fill vacancies on citizen commissions. Garcia committed the City of Long Beach to joining local educational institutions as a signatory to the Long Beach College Promise, and announced a goal of universal preschool enrollment and doubling the number of internships in the city for local students. He appointed more than 60 commissioners, creating the most diverse slate of commissioners in the city's history. His State of the City address used a large digital screen to display data and graphics, winning acclaim for its visual appeal and use of technology. The speech highlighted education, economic development, and sustainability, among other issues.
Garcia's focus on economic development has been exemplified by his revival of the inactive Economic Development Commission, and acquisition of a $3 million innovation grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies During his first term, construction on a new civic center began, and voters approved a temporary sales tax hike to support infrastructure and public safety, which Garcia initiated. Garcia has focused on economic development, public safety and infrastructure, education, technology, and building housing.
Garcia is the youngest Mayor in Long Beach history. He is also its first Latino Mayor, and is fluent in Spanish and English.