Getting to know the new Mountain View Mayor: Kamei’s path through public service

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTO COURTESY ELLEN KAMEI

The daughter of a Chinese–Puerto Rican mother and a father born in Japanese internment camps, Mountain View’s newly elected mayor, Ellen Kamei, said she became a public servant to offer her unique perspective of being a third-generation resident who has watched the city grow from a middle-class community to a tech and innovation hub. 

Her biggest focus as mayor will be tackling the issues of housing, transportation and environmental sustainability, noting the difficulty in ranking their importance, saying that “there are so many number-one priorities.” 

And, of course, the mayoral position comes with new responsibilities to mitigate the physical and mental impact of COVID-19 on the Mountain View community.

“At least for this year, in 2021, I feel like part of my unofficial duties is providing hope and trying to bring some brightness in what’s been a pretty dark time for a lot of people,” Kamei said.

Despite her love for public service, she did not always intend to go down this path. In high school, Kamei said she thought she was going to be a journalist until she participated in an internship program at The Mercury News and decided that the style of writing wasn’t for her. 

She was an English major in college, and only got involved in government when she moved back to Mountain View to live with her grandfather. 

Becoming involved in the community led her to be appointed to the environmental sustainability commission in 2012 before running for council two years later.  

Previously, she served as vice mayor in 2020 and was the chair of the Appointments Review Committee Council and Youth Services Committee as well as a member of the Transportation Committee and the Race, Equity and Inclusion Ad Hoc Subcommittee. 

Kamei emphasized that keeping people housed comes at the top of the list of priorities, noting that one way she intends to ensure this is through extending the eviction moratorium instituted early in the pandemic to protect struggling renters.

Before Kamei was first elected to city council in 2014, all seven of the council members were homeowners despite 60% of Mountain View residents being renters. Kamei said that she has a “different frame of view” from being a renter herself and also from experiencing the difficulty of moving back to an area with an increasingly expensive housing market.

“You go to school, maybe you go to college and further, and then you try to come back to the area and it feels like it’s really unattainable to live in this community,” Kamei said. “And so I think that that was the perspective and voice that I was hoping to bring.”

In fact, part of the reason she ran for council was so that those governing Mountain View would reflect the diversity of the community they serve; Kamei said that she felt her perspective as both a renter and a woman of color would prove to be a valuable perspective on the council.

As a part of the self-described “minority caucus of millennials,” Kamei along with fellow millennials Vice Mayor Lucas Ramirez and former council member Chris Clark served on council, together representing and giving power to the young voices in the community. 

Kamei served as vice-mayor for the year 2020 and said the main difference from her previous role is more responsibility as the spokesperson of the city and, of course, with more responsibility comes more meetings.

Throughout her years working in public service, Kamei said she has gotten to know the inner workings and ridiculous number of acronyms of the Mountain View government and she looks forward to her new role as the city’s leader. 

“Mountain View is truly a special place,” Kamei said in her remarks at the council meeting. “I am honored and humbled to be your mayor.”

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