The news that Jim Wood would not seek reelection to his 2nd Assembly District seat came as a surprise to his constituents last week. But the ink was hardly dry on the Nov. 10 press release when several North Coast politicians announced they would seek the seat in the 2024 elections—including Healdsburg city council member and current mayor, Ariel Kelley.
Both Wood and State Sen. Mike McGuire, who represent almost-contiguous districts, face term limits on their seats, with 2024 the last time they can run for re-election. McGuire will certainly run one more time to round out his permitted 12 years in the legislature, since he has become one of the most powerful senators in the state, but Wood has been a less visible legislator.
Wood said that his decision not to run for re-election “was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in many years,” adding, “I can make a case to continue my work, but I believe now is the right time for me to change my focus.”
Family reasons seemed to be a primary cause of Wood’s foreshortened political career. “My mother has been in declining health and now requires an increasingly higher level of care and I want to be a meaningful part of that,” he said. Yet he said he was hoping to find “different ways to support my district and the issues that are important to them, especially challenges faced by rural communities.”
Like McGuire, Wood had been a council member and mayor in Healdsburg. That’s the case with Kelley as well, who was elected to the council in 2020 on her first try for elected office.
Kelley Joins the Race
Assembly District 2 is currently drawn from the northern half of Santa Rosa to the Oregon border in Del Norte County, including the cities of Ukiah, Willits, Eureka, Arcata and Healdsburg, as well as a number of smaller communities.
Kelley sees many of the issues she’s worked on in Healdsburg as applicable throughout the district. “To me it’s a lot of similar small-city issues and small-town issues like what we face in Healdsburg,” she said. “There’s definitely some regional issues that are pretty interwoven between all the cities and communities, things that relate to small cities and communities, whether it’s septic wells in the Potter Valley or water issues that impact everybody along the Russian River and Eel River.”
She pointed out that the impacts of the pandemic are still being felt economically throughout the region. Housing, too, is an issue that the entire district grapples with. “I think housing affordability, whether it’s just cost of living, either rising rents or just rising everything with inflation and gas prices and childcare costs, I think housing remains a huge challenge,” she said.
Ariel Ungerleider grew up in Springfield, Oregon, which though not as small a town as Fortuna, Myers Flat or Hopland, is a rural community on the outskirts of Eugene. A high school competitive gymnast, she went to college at the nearby University of Oregon for her business administration degree and followed up with a masters and a law degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
While living there she met her husband Tim Kelley, a general contractor. The couple married and moved to Sonoma County in 2013, and to Healdsburg in 2015. They have two children, a boy and a girl.
From the outset Kelley, now 40, has been engaged in community affairs, including serving as the first chief executive officer of a nonprofit she helped found in 2016, Corazón Healdsburg.
She also held a seat on the Healdsburg Parks and Recreation Commission, and later the county Planning Commission. She ran for city council in 2020, winning more votes than David Hagele, up for re-election, and Skylaer Palacios, who resigned in 2022.
A commitment to the diverse nature of Healdsburg’s population permeates her public service. Her campaign website, launched last week at arielkelley.com, can be read in either English or Español.
“One of the things I feel like I do very well is show up for our community and roll up my sleeves and get involved,” she told the Tribune this week. “And that’s something that comes naturally to me and something that I think I would be able to do across this district.”
There are at least two other Democratic candidates for the seat, Santa Rosa City Councilmember Chris Rogers and Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams. Republican Michael Greer, of Crescent City, has also filed papers for the seat.
Kelley will hold on to her seat on the Healdsburg City Council, though she will step down as mayor in December when the council traditionally names a new mayor and vice mayor. Serving on the council, however, is not a full-time job, she said. “I have a lot of time in my schedule to be able to campaign and still be on the council,” she said.
The primary election takes place in March, but campaigning is already getting underway due to the early and mail-in voting policies implemented during the past several years. Which means the race is on.
“People will actually start voting in February, which is right around the corner,” she said. “So I’m definitely mindful of the fact that it’s going to be a fast-paced election. But, you know, I kind of move at that pace anyway.”