Published Feb. 2, 2023
By BRIANNA SCIUTO
Throughout the past 15 years, the United States has seen several political firsts, from the first Black president of the United States to the first female vice president. Monterey County is following this trend on the local level, having recently experienced a diversification with mayors Tyller Williamson of Monterey, Mary Ann Carbone of Sand City and Anna Velasquez of Soledad fronting the progression.
Historically, Monterey County’s governments have consisted of a homogenous group, but the benefits of this mayoral diversification are starting to reveal themselves.
“Diversity of thought, experience and background in politics is what’s going to give us the best solutions for our community,” notes Williamson, who was elected in November as Monterey’s first Black, as well as openly gay, mayor.
But Williamson is not the Monterey Peninsula’s only mayoral first in the past few years. In 2017, Sand City elected Mary Ann Carbone, its first Indigenous and female mayor, and in 2020, Anna Velasquez, Soledad’s first female mayor in almost a century, took office.
The American ideal for government is one that is for the people and by the people, and Monterey County is further progressing towards that with a government no longer confined one type of person.
“If we don’t have that full representation of what our community looks like, it can be really dangerous in regards to our democracy,” Williamson says. “We don’t truly have a democracy unless we are getting a wider perspective.”
Carbone demonstrated this idea when, before taking office as mayor of Sand City, she proposed that Sand City celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day, as she says Columbus Day is harmful to her Indigenous community. Her endeavors were to no avail, but when elected mayor, her first action was to display the newfound voice of Indigenous people in politics by making that change. This inspired cities across the county to do the same.
“I serve as a reminder that not all Native people have passed,” Carbone says.
A key component of politics is a leader’s empathy for their community, an aspect facilitated by diversity. Historically, white men have dominated the peninsula’s politics, and any homogenous group of people is not always able to empathize with the experience of everyone on the peninsula.
Williamson recognizes that this barrier could potentially render them less equipped to address certain issues, so he emphasizes a balance in representation. Having experienced homelessness, Williamson is able to empathize with the experiences of those struggling with housing. His mayoral focus is housing in Monterey, and he believes he is able to adequately address the main issues people face regarding that because of his own background. On top of that, his personal experience in the LGBTQ community allowed him to improve their experiences by co-founding the Monterey Pride Parade.
Mary Ann Carbone has made a nationwide impact that supports Williamson’s emphasis on empathy. During a visit to the White House, she initiated a federal committee focusing on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She brought to light the disproportional sex-trafficking problem within the Native American community, reinforcing the idea that diverse, individual experiences within government can improve individual quality of life.
Velasquez also acknowledges this phenomenon, citing her own experience as a leader.
“As a female and as a mom, my perspective is a little different because you really see those impediments in the community,” she says. “I’ve noticed some of the cultural and systemic barriers, and dealing with those two aspects really impacted my decision-making.”
Another advantage of diversity the mayors all note is the potential to inspire youth. Each grew up lacking politicians they could identify with, and they strive to be that person whose journey people can identify with.
“I am able to share with some of our residents that I come from Soledad, and I’m just like them,” says Velasquez, who grew up in Soledad as a first generation Mexican immigrant. “They can imagine that they can be in these roles. Growing up in Soledad, I didn’t see a role model who looked like me.”
Carbone, who currently serves as a “culture bearer” for her Chumash community alongside serving as mayor, hopes that her political presence and her public demonstration of her heritage will inspire more Indigenous Americans to advocate for their political rights.
Williamson was inspired initially by his mom’s service to her country as a member of the Navy and later by Obama, whose success confirmed that he could advance in politics as a Black man. He aspires to personally influence the people of Monterey in the same way.