At a special meeting today the Arcata City Council elected Vice-Mayor Brett Watson to serve as the city’s new mayor and Councilmember Michael Winkler to serve as vice-mayor. Though the council voted unanimously for Watson, the decision to appoint Winkler was slightly more controversial.

Councilmember Sofia Pereira voted against Winkler’s nomination, stating she had doubts about his leadership abilities.

“I already spoke with Councilmember Winkler regarding my concerns about his ability and credibility to lead our community in an additional leadership role at this time,” Pereira stated during the meeting.

Vice-Mayor Michael Winkler and Mayor Brett Watson | from the City of Arcata.

Pereira said that many constituents had relayed concerns to her about some of Winkler’s past statements and actions. She did not mention anything specific. But earlier this year the Eureka NAACP called on the council to censure Winkler because of “racially inflammatory” statements he made in an open letter published in the Mad River Union, referencing a heated city council meeting about the McKinley statue removal.

Winkler was also the only member of the council to vote against removing the McKinley statue and played a pivotal role in placing a measure to keep the statue on the November ballot.

Pereira went on to say that she would not censure Winkler. But she would be “respectfully voting ‘no’” on his nomination. “There is a lot of space between censuring a colleague and awarding additional responsibilities,” she said.


Though both Councilmember Paul Pitino and Councilmember Susan Ornelas expressed that they shared some of Pereira’s sentiment, they felt that Winkler was still worthy of their vote for vice-mayor.

Councilmember Pitino said that he didn’t want to upset the council’s usual protocol. The Arcata City Council appoints their mayor and vice-mayor through a rotation, giving each member a chance to serve in those rolls. However, this unofficial system allows the council to elect any member they choose.

Pitino said that he felt Winkler should be given the opportunity to prove himself over the next year and then decide if he should take a “real leadership position. Because the vice mayor doesn’t really do much,” Pitino said.

In the end, Winkler was elected in a 4-1 vote. Winkler thanked Pitino and Ornelas for their support, although it may be conditional. “I’d like to use this opportunity to build on positive aspects of our relationship,” Winkler said.

You can view the full meeting video here.