Local history was made Monday as Jaime Kinder became the first woman and first Black person to serve as mayor since the borough of Meadville was incorporated as a city in 1866.
Meadville City Council’s annual reorganization meeting was historic in another sense as well: It also marked the first time that women have constituted a majority on the five-member body. Kinder and newly elected Councilwoman Gretchen Myers joined Councilwoman Autumn Vogel, elected in 2019. In the 54 years since the first woman joined council, there have only been a few times — less than five years total — when two women have served simultaneously.
As she made her way to where her three children waited moments after adjourning the first meeting of her career as an elected official, Kinder described the experience of wielding the mayor’s gavel for the first time in an official capacity as “super exciting.”
“I thought it was awesome,” she added.
As for the year to come, Kinder had her sights set on priorities such as the downtown business environment, transparency in city government, and housing.
“We want to make sure that Meadville is about backing and promoting our downtown,” she said. “They’re a priority here.”
With regard to transparency, Kinder said that she would hold office hours regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the City Building, likely from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“People will be able to come in and talk to their local government and give suggestions,” she said.
Addressing council and city staff members as well as more than 20 audience members, Pastor Cameron Bowman of St. John Missionary Baptist Church highlighted what he called “this remarkable moment” in an invocation that led off the reorganization meeting.
“We all come from many places, backgrounds, ethnicities and by many paths, yet today we all come here inspired by a singular mission to struggle for the well-being of all those who inhabit this beloved city,” Bowman said before turning his attention directly to the council members before him. “May they be inspired with courage, wisdom and compassion that they may stand in solidarity with the needy and the poor, defeat prejudice and unify our city. May they be guided to know and to do what is right to challenge and defy anything — anything at all — that would diminish justice in this city, in this land and in this world.”
Bowman delivered a message that Myers took to heart, commenting on the minister’s words in both her closing remarks and a brief interview after the meeting.
“I think if we could live by Pastor Bowman’s prayers,” Myers said, “I think they’re just exactly what we need to be doing.”
In addition to the swearing in of Kinder, Myers and Councilman Jim Roha, who joined a select group of council members in being elected to his fourth term, the meeting also included the unanimous reappointment of Larry McKnight as deputy mayor. The simultaneous presence of Kinder and McKnight also represents another first for the city — the first time two Black people have served on council together. Only one other Black person — Sam Byrd — has previously served on council.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2020 Black people made up about 5.4 percent of the city’s population in 2020. Multiracial people made up another 6.2 percent.
The various firsts carried political significance in addition to historic meaning. Roha continues as the only Republican on council, as has been the case since 2020, but he now finds himself working with four Democrats who ran considerably more progressive campaigns than those of the two departing Democrats, former Mayor LeRoy Stearns and Councilman Sean Donahue.
McKnight alluded to the new make-up of both council and the supporters who put progressive candidates in office in his closing remarks, drawing attention to the standing room only crowd that attended the late morning meeting.
“I’m just really glad to see the turnout and the statement that this election made — saying that the people of Meadville are interested in seeing our city move ahead to a better place,” McKnight said. “If you look around at the makeup of the room it’s telling you that we’re not letting the small things in life divide us. We’re coming together as a town. We want our town to be appreciated, respected and enjoyed by everyone regardless of who you are or where you’re from.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.