Sonoma mayor Rachel Hundley is a relative newcomer to town and politics
When Rachel Hundley was in the fifth grade, she came home from school one day and told her mother she no longer wanted to be president.
“I want to be mayor,” she declared.
More than two decades later, Hundley has her wish, even though it’s on the other side of the country, far from her southern upbringing and the school lessons that prompted her interest in government.
Hundley, 33, a South Carolina native and relative newcomer to Sonoma, was unanimously selected mayor this week by her council colleagues, only three years after moving to town and two years after being elected to the City Council.
An attorney, caterer and food truck co-owner, she represents a new generation of young professionals making their home in the county’s oldest permanent settlement, established more than 180 years ago when the state was still part of Mexico.
Hundley traded life as a New York City attorney handling commercial contracts and securities for California, moving first to Santa Cruz, then relocating a year later to Sonoma, in March 2013, intent on running for local office.
“Part of my reason for moving to a smaller city is that local government is something I wanted to be involved with since I was in fifth grade,” Hundley said. “I think the answers to the world’s problems are mostly found in our local communities.”
She was drawn to Sonoma because of its resemblance to France, a place she considered moving to after several visits.
The similarities, she said, include “rolling hills and vineyards surrounding a small historic town.”
She also wanted to try her hand at owning a business, specifically related to food. Hundley is now co-owner of the Drums and Crumbs catering truck, which dishes out Southern-inspired cuisine. One of the specialties includes a fried chicken waffle cone, drizzled with syrup, with mac and cheese stuffed inside.
It’s not exactly the farm-to-table cuisine in vogue in Wine Country, but it has “a little cult following,” she said, especially in San Francisco when the food truck parks there.
Hundley ran for City Council in 2014, expecting it to be a rehearsal for a successful bid two years later. But with the promise to voters of a “fresh perspective” she surprised herself by coming in third, edging out longtime Councilman Ken Brown, who failed to win re-election.
Her quick rise to the largely ceremonial position of mayor this week also was somewhat unexpected.
Mayor pro-tem Madolyn Agrimonti was next in line under the usual rotation for the mayor’s slot. Instead, Hundley was nominated first and received unanimous affirmation from the council.
Agrimonti, a former mayor of Daly City before she served on the Sonoma City Council, said she didn’t expect to be get picked, because she has a different approach than the others.
“I feel there is a different kind of mood with respect to the majority on the council,” Agrimonti said,
One of the top priorities Hundley and others on the council have expressed - including newcomer and top vote-getter Amy Harrington - is to strike a balance between the needs of local residents and tourism, especially when visitors and traffic drawn to the plaza and historic buildings can seem overwhelming.
Agrimonti said sometimes her council colleagues have taken “Draconian” measures to accommodate local concerns, such as denying the Napa Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon permission to run down Broadway in 2017 because of complaints from residents about the street being closed.
But she also voices confidence in Hundley, saying “she’s smart and will be able to do a good job.”
Hundley will lead a group of relative council newcomers, none of whom have served more than four years.
She listed a number of goals, including a general plan update, renewal of the urban growth boundary and the need to identify locations for higher-density housing, especially for the workforce.
Hundley said if there’s been a shift on the council, it’s toward being more proactive.
“I’d like for it to be more action-oriented and look further into the future, to take steps we need to take now, to get to where we want to be,” she said.