Last week, the Arcata City Council officially welcomed three new members — Stacey Atkins-Salazar, Emily Grace Goldstein and Sarah Schaefer — marking the first time the famously progressive town has had a majority of women councilmembers.
There is no question that this was the most unusual election we’ve ever seen, with the pandemic preventing most conventional campaigning. On top of that, there were 10 candidates running for three Arcata City Council seats.
So what helped these three women win? How did they approach campaigning during the pandemic? And how might this council shake-up affect the city? The Outpost asked the new council members for their views on these questions and more, to help you better know the newcomers who will be making decisions that affect Arcata for the next four (or more) years.
Born and raised in Arcata, Schaefer graduated with a bachelor’s in History from Lewis & Clark College in Portland and returned to her hometown, where she earned her teaching credential from Humboldt State. Schaefer currently teaches History and college prep at Northern United Charter School in Eureka.
Passionate about serving her community, Schaefer had been considering running for Arcata City Council for some time. When she saw that there were three open seats and only two incumbents — Michael Winkler and Paul Pitino — running for re-election, Schaefer thought this was the perfect opportunity to run for election. She also felt like it was time for some fresh perspectives on the council.
“I have the utmost respect for Paul and Michael, but I just felt like it was time for a change,” Schaefer told the Outpost in a recent phone interview. “The young professionals in Arcata need a voice.”
Figuring out how to run a campaign during COVID was challenging, Schaefer said, and she said that staying active on social media was important for her. Schaefer also credits a lot of her success to her campaign signs, saying that she is pretty sure she put signs out before any of the other candidates and that having the name recognition was important in this year’s crowded field of candidates.
Schaefer is happy to see Arcata voters elect new, younger council members and feels that it shows that a lot of Arcata’s younger voters — HSU students and graduates — have a strong voice in the community. “I think it shows that Arcata is first and foremost a college town,” she said.
And although Schaefer knows that there will be a learning curve for the new council members, she feels that the fresh perspectives they bring will benefit Arcata.
“I’m excited to get to work and see the passion that we’ll bring to projects,” Schaefer told the Outpost.
Emily Grace Golstein
Goldstein also wanted to see some new faces on the council, which is a big part of why she decided to run. “I think that for me it feels like while we’ve had great leadership in our city, I did see a need for change,” she told the Outpost in a phone interview last week.
Graduating from HSU with a bachelor’s degree in Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and earning her master’s in Social Work from the University of Washington, Goldstein now works for the California Health Collaborative’s RISE program — a non-profit program dedicated to reducing tobacco related health disparities in rural areas.
The 26-year-old is the youngest councilmember and feels that her appeal to younger voters is part of why she was elected, Golstein said, adding that she hopes seeing her elected will help encourage more young people to run for office, even if they have no experience.
“I want other people to feel confident in themselves to run in the future,” Goldstein told the Outpost. “It’s not that I’m anything special, it’s just that I went for it…I’ve never done this before and I’m a little intimidated. The people chose us, they put their confidence in us and I don’t want to let anyone down.”
As far as campaigning during the pandemic, Goldstein said she relied heavily on social media — especially Instagram — to connect with her constituents, an approach she also feels helped her appeal to the younger voters. Goldstein also said she made a concerted effort to connect with local organizations during her campaign, such as Arcata House Partnership, March for Our Lives and the Humboldt Center Area for Harm Reduction (HACHR). She also was grateful for the online forums and felt they really helped voters get to know the candidates a little bit better.
Goldstein said she is happy to see more women and younger people on the council, adding that she is very proud to help represent the LGBTQ community. Goldstein identifies as queer, something she was very open about during her campaign.
“I have been out since 2012 and I’m not interested in hiding any part of who I am,” Goldstein told the Outpost. “I’m glad it was well received in the community, and maybe even gained me votes. I love my queer community here and I wanted all the queer people in Arcata to know that they had representation. It’s not the only part of who I am, but I think as far as being on the council, having more representation in every area is a good thing.”
Atkins-Salazar was born in Arcata, graduated from Arcata High and earned two degrees in Psychology from Humboldt State. Previously a part-time professor at College of the Redwoods, Atkins-Salazar ended up focusing on her other passion — dance — and has owned and operated No Limits Dance Academy in Arcata for 20 years.
A mother of three, Atkins-Salazar spent a lot of her spare time volunteering and organizing for school-related activities and served on the Arcata School Board. With her children mostly grown — her youngest now a senior in highschool — and her business temporarily closed due to the pandemic, Atkins-Salazar found herself with more time to focus on the social and political issues facing us today. She felt it was the right time to do something more to serve her community and decided to run for council with the campaign slogan “finding common ground.”
“I was feeling frustrated, upset and angry at what was happening in our country and more specifically with how it was affecting people’s relationship,” Atkins-Salazar told the Outpost in a recent interview. “Scrolling through Facebook was depressing and the hate that was streaming out of people towards those different from them was upsetting me. I felt like we were being unnecessarily and extremely polarized. Where was the middle ground?”
Gaining the highest number of votes of all the candidates, Atkins-Salazar attributes her success largely to her connection to her community through living and owning a business in Arcata for many years, but she also feels that it helped that she visited voters in person.
Atkins-Salazar and her team passed out nearly 7,000 flyers, leaving them under people’s doormats, under flower pots and even under a few bongs, she said. Because of COVID, she did not knock on any doors. But if people saw her, she would talk to them outside. “A couple people didn’t like that we came by,” she said. “But many people were appreciative.’”
Atkins-Salazar added that, although she had a lot of respect for the incumbents and all the other candidates, she was not surprised that the voters elected all women and all newcomers.
“I think having three new council members will be exciting and will add a big influx of new energy to the council,” Atkins-Salazar told the Outpost. “[When I was campaigning] I didn’t hear a lot of negativity about the incumbents. A few people had their opinions. It wasn’t that they didn’t like them. I just feel like they wanted to shake things up a little. What I heard was people just wanted change.”
The fresh, female-dominated council will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
If you would like to see how the council has progressed throughout the years, check out this list of every Arcata City Council since 1880, compiled by another amazing woman, Arcata City Clerk Bridget Dory.