It's in her genes.
That's what Michele Gabriault-Acosta tells people. And she's probably only half-joking. She's had eight years of Merced City Council experience and comes from a family long involved in city politics. Her mother was the first female mayor of Merced, and her father also sat in the mayor's chair in the late 1980s.
Gabriault-Acosta terms out next month, leaving a spot open on the council for other candidates.
The next logical leap after serving on the City Council, she said, was running for mayor -- a position she ran for two years ago but lost by 75 votes to Mayor Bill Spriggs.
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As for her history in politics, she became interested in and involved with city politics after serving as vice-chairwoman on the city's planning commission. "It's a great starting place, even getting on one of the commissions," the 59-year old said. "It was the next leap and wanting to give a voice for all of Merced."
During her tenure on the council, she recalled that a resident called her attention to a lack of left-turn signals on M and R streets and Loughborough Drive. There were a lot of traffic jams and safety issues. She told city staff and the project was completed, she said.
Gabriault-Acosta, who has most of her family living in Merced, works part-time at Merced College as an editorial assistant and full-time as a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Gonella Realty.
She's held previous positions with organizations such as the Merced County Chamber of Commerce, Board of Realtors and the Merced Business and Professional Women's Club. "I think I bring a voice for everyone," she said, adding she's lived in every part of town.
One area of need is the city's revenues. "I know we've gotten slammed both publicly and by other candidates about us taking the money from the reserves. We did that to keep people in jobs for as long as we could," Gabriault-Acosta said. "The budget is going to have an effect for the next couple of years until we get back on track with our sales tax increases."
And the most urgent area of need, she said, is jobs. "One way to do that is by continuing to put a positive image of the city to potential businesses and also going out to talk to large and mom-and-pop businesses once a week and make sure everything's OK," she said.
She doesn't want to lay off any city staff, instead looking to other areas to cut, such as supplies, going to electronic agendas and saving paper, for instance.
"I think it's real important to still give the level of services that our residents have come to expect but also covering our youth and our senior activities, too," she said.
She's been trying for the last four years to get the public facility impact fees reduced. "We did get them lowered somewhat," she said.
She said potential businesses look to the mayor as the city's spokesperson. "I think I'd bring a real positive attitude. With me it's a can-do attitude, not can't," she said. With her wide range of backgrounds, including real estate and retail, she said she brings a lot to the table. "I'm more compassionate than some of the male (candidates). I'm more involved in the community than they are," she said.
As a relocation specialist who gives tours for people who might take jobs with employers in the city, she said Merced has a lot to offer. And UC Merced has a lot of opportunities for growth and expansion.
All in all, Gabriault-Acosta wants "to make people realize what a great city we have."
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.