The Healdsburg City Council (from left): Ron Edwards, Chris Herrod, Mayor Ariel Kelley, Evelyn Mitchell and Vice Mayor David Hagele. (Photo/Facebook)
The Healdsburg City Council (from left): Ron Edwards, Chris Herrod, Mayor Ariel Kelley, Evelyn Mitchell and Vice Mayor David Hagele. (Photo/Facebook)

Healdsburg selects first Jewish mayor since 19th century

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For the first time in more than 100 years, Healdsburg has a Jewish mayor.

On Dec. 5, Ariel Kelley was appointed to the yearlong position by her peers on the city council. Kelley, an attorney, was elected to a four-year council term in November 2020 and became the vice mayor shortly thereafter.

“I am truly grateful to my colleagues who have selected me to lead our council as we move forward into 2023,” Kelley wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m honored to be trusted with this responsibility, and proud to represent our city — so I’m not wasting any time getting to work.”

Kelley, 40, succeeds Mayor Osvaldo “Ozzy” Jimenez, who announced in August that he would not seek re-election to the council.

Prior to Kelley’s appointment, the last Jewish mayor of Healdsburg was Samuel Cohn in 1886, according to Holly Hoods, executive director of the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society. Hoods added that the Jewish community was heavily involved in the founding of the Sonoma County city.

While there is no synagogue in Healdsburg, there is a small Jewish community of about 40 families, Kelley said. Kelley, who has lived in Healdsburg for nearly 10 years, described herself to J. as an “active, practicing, religious Jew.” She and her family attend services at Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati and Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa.

Kelley first ran for the five-member city council after witnessing firsthand the lack of resources available to the Latino community through her work with Corazón Healdsburg, a nonprofit aimed at celebrating diversity and building community. Healdsburg, a city of nearly 12,000, is 30% Latino, according to the 2021 census.

Where Ariel shines is that she is a doer. I’m looking forward to next year and what we’re going to be able to accomplish.

Kelley speaks Spanish fluently, and co-founded Corazón in 2016 with Ari and Dawnelise Rosen.

“I felt that our local government really needed to have a different perspective about the residents here who needed services in a great time of need,” Kelley said.

In her two years on the city council, Kelley has worked on issues of housing, climate justice and inclusion. In May, she visited Israel with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council to look for innovative solutions to problems Healdsburg faces.

Two-term council member David Hagele, the current vice mayor who served as mayor in 2019, has worked alongside Kelley since the Kincade Fire of 2019, which forced the evacuation of the city. Kelley was an integral part of making sure that the Spanish-speaking residents of Healdsburg were kept informed on safety and evacuation procedures, he said.

“Where Ariel shines is that she is a doer,” Hagele said. “I’m looking forward to next year and what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”

Already, Kelley has begun to address longstanding issues in the community. Her first act as mayor was to reach out to the tribal leaders of local Native American communities.

“We have struggled over the 160-year settler history of this community to build relationships and inroads with the leadership of our Native American community,” Kelley told J.

Kelley said she hopes to meet with tribal leaders to discuss their goals for their communities and build common ground.

For this month, her docket includes a Dec. 16 joint celebration that will pay homage to both Hanukkah and the Mexican tradition of Posadas, which are Christmastime gatherings of family, friends and neighbors in commemoration of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. The celebration in Healdsburg Plaza will feature traditional Mexican and Jewish food and games, as well as an 8-foot menorah commissioned by the city council last year.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.