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Amid outcry over failure to address police reform and racism, Healdsburg mayor to resign

Healdsburg Mayor Leah Gold gets into a pointed exchange with protesters on June 11.
Healdsburg Mayor Leah Gold gets into a pointed exchange with protesters on June 11. Gold has said she will resign as mayor of the small wine country town.
(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

The mayor of a California wine country town says she’ll resign after furor in recent weeks over her initial failure to address the topics of police brutality and racism amid the surging Black Lives Matter movement.

Healdsburg Mayor Leah Gold says she will step down on June 30 and hopes that a person of color will fill her position on the all-white City Council, a demand raised in a petition calling for her resignation.

“Although I feel positively about my contributions and have many loyal supporters, I’m certain there are also many BIPOC [Black, indigenous, people of color] members of our community who could serve our city well,” Gold said in a statement Tuesday. “As I’ve considered how I can help Healdsburg advance in racial justice during this critical juncture, I believe that one of the ways I can contribute is by creating a space for a person of color to join the City Council.”

The mayor told The Times that her decision was largely due to the overwhelming criticism, which she mostly received on social media in addition to some calls and letters.

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“We expect as public figures on the City Council to take a certain amount of abuse, but this was just more than I had signed up for. I didn’t want to put myself in that position any longer,” she said. “It’s going to be hard to get a citizen representative if they’re exposed to this treatment.”

The public scrutiny over Gold’s comments and actions began in early June. After the outrage that erupted throughout the country over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the Healdsburg City Council decided not to include police reform on its June 1 agenda after a resident raised the issue.

Gold said that misuse of force by police was not a problem in Healdsburg, a statement many residents deemed ignorant. They said Gold believed that racism did not exist in the Sonoma County city of roughly 12,000. According to the U.S. census, the town is made up of 77.5% white residents and 30% Latino residents (people can check more than one box). Less than 1% of residents are identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 1.5% are identified as Asian.

The comments were followed by advice for people to refrain from demonstrations amid reports of violence in the early days of protests.

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“Speaking only for myself as a Healdsburg resident, I urge my community to refrain from any public demonstration at this time. As has been evidenced in many other local communities, there are opportunistic, destructive factions involved who may not allow you to have the peaceful protest you envision,” she wrote in a statement on Facebook.

Gold later denounced the sentiment that her views were racist, saying that “racism is an issue everywhere” and that the town should, after all, be involved in the conversation over police brutality. She thanked peaceful protesters and said she signed the Obama Foundation’s Mayor’s Pledge to review police use-of-force polices.

“At this time when the entire country is re-examining use of force by police and its inequitable application to people of color, of course Healdsburg should be involved in the dialog,” she said in the statement.

But for many, the mayor’s newfound understanding of a longtime issue came too late.

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“Clearly, the mayor is out of touch with reality and is not in a position to lead our city in an inclusive and forward-moving manner. We call for her resignation immediately, and for her to be replaced by a BIPOC, so that all citizens of Healdsburg can be represented,” read a Change.org petition that launched two weeks ago.

The petition garnered about 1,885 signatures from people who shared experiences of racism in Healdsburg and others who deemed Gold’s comments a sign of white privilege.

“I’m signing because black lives matter. WHITE SILENCE IS VIOLENCE,” read one.

“To say there is no racism in Healdsburg is to be completely out of touch with our community. It has existed all of the nearly 50 years I have lived here. I see it every day. I have even been yelled at, to go back to my own country,” read another.

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Gold has lived in Healdsburg for about 28 years and has served on the City Council off and on for the past 20 years.Her term as mayor would have ended in December, though her term on the City Council would have run for two more years.


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