Vini Samuel, Montesano, Washington mayoral candidate aced a primary election and is on her way to becoming the nation’s first Indian American female mayor. The tiny town of Montesano in northwest Washington state has approximately 2,300 registered voters; about half voted in the primaries. Samuel garnered 47 percent of the vote, trumping incumbent Mayor Ken Estes, who received 27 percent, and Montesano city councilman Tyler Trimble, who won 25 percent. Samuel will face off against Estes in the Nov. 3 election.
The candidate believes she has clinched the race. “I just need to keep my head down and stay out of trouble,” Samuel laughingly toldIndia-West in a telephone interview. If elected, Samuel will also be Montesano’s first female mayor and its first minority mayor.
Samuel, who was born in Quilon, Kerala, and raised in Juneau, Alaska, characterized the tiny town of Montesano as “a little piece of Americana.” “The kids still bike on the streets and go fishing. You enter a different reality,” she said, comparing it to the mythical town of Mayberry, RFD, which was the setting for the popular 1960s television sitcom, “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“I want to preserve this place. You really don’t have pockets like this anymore,” stated Samuel, who has lived in Montesano for 18 years with her husband, Guy Bergstrom, who works for the Democratic Caucus in the Washington state House of Representatives, and their son, Thomas, 13. Samuel’s parents, Pona Samuel and Samuel Thomas, also live nearby.
Montesano – about 50 miles away from Olympic National Forest – features three lakes. The town is also the county seat for Grays Harbor County. Samuel, who has previously served on Montesano’s city council, said she was campaigning on the issue of transparency in city politics. She questioned the recent sale of a parcel of waterfront property which sold well under market for about $20,000. The sale was approved by the city council with the stipulation that an easement would be built to allow residents to have waterfront access at the property.
Instead, the property was developed without the easement, disallowing public access to the waterfront, she said. Speculation about a backroom deal between Estes and the developer has been rife. Samuel also sounded off against Estes’ interactions with a deaf city councilwoman, Marisa Salzer, who had requested an interpreter during city council meetings. A confrontation on the issue became more divisive when the city attorney asked Salzer for copies of her private e-mail, alleging the councilwoman used her official and private accounts interchangeably. Salzer has since resigned and wrote in her resignation letter: “I can no longer tolerate the unfair working conditions of discrimination and harassment against me for requesting accommodations from the city for my hearing disability.”
Samuel said she also wants to leverage limited resources for the town’s three elementary schools. Washington state provides insufficient funding and the tax base of the small town cannot meet the schools’ budgetary needs. “But the community here is amazing. I have never seen them say no to anything related to kids,” she told the media.
Samuel regards Wi-Fi as basic infrastructure and said she wants to have free Wi-Fi access throughout the downtown area. Washington’s baby boomers are increasingly moving into Montesano, attracted by lower housing prices in a scenic location. The candidate said more services need to be in place for the town’s aging population.
Samuel attended Western Washington University, where she received a B.A. in history and English literature; she obtained her law degree from Seattle University.