Bay City Mayor Kathleen Newsham is married with 3 children and 5 grandchildren. She works at Nelsen and Company. Newsham has served several terms as City Commissioner and as Mayor, serving as the 8th Ward City Commissioner for 6 years before being elected mayor in November 1997. She successfully ran for City Commission again in 2003 and for mayor in 2015.
Route: What inspired you to serve in local politics?
It was Paul Brissette. He was a county commissioner and I’m friends with the family. We were at a chicken dinner one day and he called me over and started introducing me as the next 8th Ward City Commissioner. I’m thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this.” But we ended up talking later and I thought “Oh, what the heck?” I served for 20 years and I thought that was a good amount of time, so I didn’t run for re-election thinking I would never run again. But I’m back.
What’s the better job - mayor or city commissioner?
That’s a tough one because I enjoyed both. The jobs are similar. As commissioner, you have a lot of meetings to go to. As mayor, I’m able to go to ceremonies and ribbon cuttings and perform weddings. I feel like I’m the face of the city. I enjoy that. As a city commissioner, you have to answer tough questions and you have to vote. As mayor, you only vote when there’s a tiebreaker on the floor. In both jobs, when someone wants to talk to you, they talk to you. My family’s used to it.
What’s the most surprising thing about being involved in local politics?
The fact that I have not been able to find the magic answer on how to get more people involved in our projects. We have some new things coming up. We have a blight program that’s just being organized. We’re going to be going into neighborhoods to get things cleaned up and we want to involve the neighbors. Once you have the neighborhood involved, it snowballs. There’s got to be a way we can get our residents more involved. I love all the people in Bay City. I just wish we could involve them in a way that they would appreciate everything the city has to offer.
For all the future politicians out there, what does it take to be a good local elected official?
Patience. You have to be the best listener that you can be. Most times when someone calls you with a problem, all they want is for you to listen. If you don’t have an answer for them that day, they want to hear back. Also, you have to have the strength to make the decision that is right for the city as a whole. A lot of times the decisions you make, along with your fellow commissioners, are not well received in the community. You have to be able to explain to the residents why you voted the way you did. You have to be able to deal with situations that are unusual sometimes. You have to take it all in stride. The important thing really is listening and having patience.
What are your dreams for Bay City?
We have so much to offer and so many things going on. My dreams are to continue what we’re doing. We have our growth along the riverfront. We’ve had new businesses come in and they might be out in the county, but they still bring people into the city. I would like to look for more development. I want solutions for our bridges, our streets, and our infrastructure. I’d like to help our neighborhoods bring people in and stay vibrant. I’d like to see young people come back and the housing stock improve. We have a lot of new condos coming into the community and they seem to be a big hit. The younger people who are coming back love to be in the middle of the action. We also want to do what we can ease some of the stress on our utility bills. I know the utility bills are tough. We are working on that, trying to alleviate a little bit of that pressure.
What do you think are Bay City’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges?
I think our future is bright. We have a great Department of Public Safety. We have good city commissioners who really care about the community. We have people here at City Hall who are here because they want to work for the City of Bay City. We have our own utility company and access to the riverfront. We’re a small town and everyone cares for everyone. Our biggest problems are the aging infrastructure and increases in utility rates. Those are the two hot items we hear about daily. The infrastructure is the hardest thing and the worst thing because our residents deserve safe bridges and they deserve safe streets. Safe bridges and better streets would improve our quality of life and our neighborhoods.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know if it was really advice, but once I got into office, my parents moved from the house where I grew up and we bought it. I’d have events or fundraisers and my Dad would be talking to people and he’d say “I’d never vote for her.” Then he’d say, “Well, I can’t vote for her, but I would if I could. I would because she cares so much about this city. If you really want some help and assistance and someone who really cares, call my daughter.” He told me “Just be yourself and do what you’ve always done. Your goal is to be you and to help whoever you can help.”