Natalie Rogers makes history, becoming first Black woman seated as Santa Rosa’s mayor

Santa Rosa City Council member Natalie Rogers was selected Tuesday night by her fellow council members as the city’s newest mayor, cementing an historic appointment that makes her the first Black woman to lead the North Bay’s largest city.|

Santa Rosa City Council member Natalie Rogers was selected Tuesday night by her fellow council members as the city’s newest mayor, cementing an historic appointment that makes her the first Black woman to lead the North Bay’s largest city.

Rogers, who was first elected in 2020 and represents parts of west and southwest Santa Rosa, succeeds outgoing Mayor Chris Rogers in the two-year rotating post, which conveys some ceremonial duties and other city responsibilities.

“I am ecstatic. I’m happy. I’m speechless,” she said following Tuesday night’s council session. “I told my husband I need to go home and let out a good night cry.”

Rogers and other city leaders had gathered at Ca’Bianca Ristorante Italiano in downtown Santa Rosa to celebrate the council’s reorganization, which included her selection as mayor, as well as the induction of two newly elected members and the departure of two veterans.

The jubilant atmosphere was audible during The Press Democrat’s phone interview with the new mayor, who described herself as “honored” and excited to continue work that would benefit Santa Rosa’s residents and business owners.

Reached Wednesday, Rogers elaborated on her goals for the next two years.

“Definitely fiscal stability,” she said. “We passed a balanced budget, so I would like to stay on that path of being fiscally responsible.”

She also noted that Santa Rosa is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic stabilization remains a priority.

“Not within the county, necessarily, but in our community and how we support the businesses and revitalize downtown. Just really having a stable platform for businesses to thrive,“ she said.

In addition, ensuring that equity, inclusion and diversity are being considered in all city matters is of utmost importance, Rogers said, as is affordable housing and the continued cooperation among city leaders to support their respective districts.

Rogers, 41, is a marriage and family therapist. She and her husband, Aundray, are parents of eight children in their blended family.

She broke barriers in 2020 when she was the first Black woman elected to the Santa Rosa council, representing the newly formed District 7. She served as vice mayor in 2021.

On Wednesday, she acknowledged her new title will take some getting used to.

“I’m just settling in to being called mayor but I am so enthusiastic to further work with community members, our wonderful city manager, city staff and local businesses because I believe we all play a part and it’s going to take everyone to continue to go where we want to go, and that is to be the destination location for the North Bay,” she said.

Every two years, a council member is appointed to fill the mayor’s post, which is mostly symbolic but pays $26,640 per year compared to $17,760 for other council members. Its responsibilities include setting the council agenda and acting as the city’s de facto spokesperson.

Natalie Rogers emerged victorious with a 4-3 majority after three prior rounds of council voting failed to generate majorities for council members Victoria Fleming and Dianna MacDonald, who had been considered front-runners for the mayoral post.

Fleming was reelected in November to represent northeast Santa Rosa in District 4. MacDonald was appointed to the council in February and ran unopposed to fill the remainder of a two-year term in the eastern District 3.

Prior to Tuesday’s decision, Fleming referenced her comparatively seasoned tenure on the new council — where she and Chris Rogers make up the lone members with more than two years of experience.

MacDonald touted her prior school board experience and leadership of the state PTA as part of the track record that would help her serve as mayor.

Besides her vote for herself, Natalie Rogers was supported by council members Eddie Alvarez, Fleming and outgoing Mayor Chris Rogers.

MacDonald came in second with votes from herself and newly seated council members Jeff Okrepkie and Mark Stapp.

“I’m a woman of faith and I just prayed about it. And, if it was for me, it would be,” Natalie Rogers said.

Rogers took her seat as mayor following council’s final vote and presided over a public comment period and the unanimous selection of MacDonald as vice mayor before the meeting adjourned.

Earlier in the night, the council reshuffling included the departure of outgoing council members John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm, who did not run for re-election last month.

Sawyer, a former downtown business owner, has served 16 years on the council in two separate eight-year stints, including a rotation as mayor, making him one of the longest tenured council members in Santa Rosa history.

Schwedhelm, a retired Santa Rosa police chief and former mayor, was first elected in 2014.

They were praised for their service before stepping away from their council seats one last time.

Sawyer’s and Schwedhelm’s seats are being filled by Stapp and Okrepkie, respectively, who were sworn in.

Schwedhelm said he was part of a team effort and he was uncomfortable with the accolades presented Tuesday night. He described his time on the council as “a magical journey.”

Sawyer added, “It’s been quite the journey and all journeys come to an end and that is what’s happening tonight.”

Earlier Tuesday, Chris Rogers issued a State of the City update, in which he reflected on his time as mayor. A Santa Rosa native and former campaign manager and senior district representative for state Sen. Mike McGuire, he was the youngest person elevated to that role in city history.

“I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me to be able to serve the city I love so much,” Rogers, 35, said. “Santa Rosa is my home. It’s where I was born, where I fell in love, and where my wife and I intend to start our family. And, while serving hasn’t always been easy — four wildfires, a pandemic, civil unrest, floods and a minor earthquake since I took office — this experience has reinforced my belief that public service matters and that a well run local government can increase the quality of life for the people we work for.”

As mayor, Rogers said, his specific concerns and interests included rising economic inequality, generational poverty, and climate change.

“These interests dovetailed and supplemented many of our broader council goals: Housing for all, reducing homelessness and its impacts, community health and safety, economic and community vibrancy, sustainable infrastructure, and organizational excellence. I was particularly interested in the impact that these issues have on Santa Rosa’s children and seniors,” he added.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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