By Gideon Rubin
A few certainties remain in Linda Koelling’s political career.
Later tonight, when the lame duck city council meets for the last time in a special session, the Foster City mayor will preside over a trash rate hike hearing and eight resolutions involving job reclassifications.
The conclusion of tonight’s meeting, when Koelling and council member Rick Wykoff officially term out, will mark the end – at least for now – of career in public service that spans five decades.
Koelling, 62, acknowledges that her next move is anybody’s guess.
“For the first time in my life I’m walking into the unknown,” Koelling told Patch.
“It’s a little frightening.”
Koelling launched her career in public service on Burlingame’s Parks and Recreation Department in 1972, a year after graduating from Cal State Hayward with a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation management.
Her first involvement in politics was in the mid 1980’s, when she headed a failed effort to pass Measure L, a Foster City ballot initiative calling for the construction of a pool and a gym.
Koelling chaired the city’s Park and Recreation Committee at the time, and was appointed by the council to run the Measure L campaign.
She was elected to the city council in her first bid in an uncontested 2003 race, and reelected four years later.
Koelling was elected to her second stint as mayor last December. She served as vice mayor in 2005, and mayor a year a later.
She has served on the California League of Cities for eight years and numerous city and committees. She was also involved in the successful passage of Proposition 22, a state initiative she campaigned for banning the state from raiding local government coffers.
She is the founder of the original Kids Connection preschool and elementary school.
As chairman of the park and recreation committee, Koelling oversaw the development of a parks system that’s now the envy of the rest of the county.
She cites the recent council approval for a developer to build senior housing on a 15-acre parcel near city hall, implementation of a shuttle van service to plug the gaps left by SamTrans route cancellations, and construction of a teen center, to be her most significant legislative accomplishments.
“This is where I lived and I was very interested in my community,” Koelling said of her commitment to public service. “I was interested in serving my neighbors and my own family.
“I wanted to preserve the vision of what makes Foster City, Foster City.”
Although Koelling says she has no immediate plans to run for public office, don’t expect her to go away anytime soon.
“Staying in the political scene is something I’m very interested in,” she said. I think we’ve made a lot of progress and I’ve learned a lot.”
Koelling has options.
The most probable next step in her political evolution would be a run for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. It’s a move she’s acknowledged considering, although she’s vowed not to challenge District 2 incumbent and Board President Carol Groom, should she run for reelection in two years.
Koelling could run for the council again in two years. A state assembly run is a possibility too, she said.
In addition to Groom’s possible presence, another major obstacle to a supervisor run is Koelling’s party affiliation. She is a registered Republican in a county that hasn’t elected anyone wearing a GOP hat in decades.
Koelling describes herself as a moderate who looks at all sides of issues, and insists she won’t let her party affiliation stand in the way of a potential bid.
“We’re looking at Republicans and Democrats and I think what we need to look at are the people who can do the best job,” she said.
“That’ s why we’ve got so much polarization in Sacramento and in Washington. It’s all about party politics and I think we need to step away from that. It’s hurting this country tremendously and it’s hurting our state.”
Koelling believes she brings an element to public service that’s missing in the way business is done these days.
“We need to have a little more common sense in governing and we don’t have it,” Koelling said.
Koelling said she developed the competitiveness that’s served her well in politics as an avid athlete growing up. She was raised in San Francisco, attending the now defunct Presentation High, where she competed in intramural softball, track, volleyball and basketball in an era when girls’ athletics weren’t yet sanctioned.
She was a corner infielder on a Foster City rec league softball team about 10 years ago, but a bum knee forced her to quit after a year in what was her only involvement in organized sports.
She at one point wanted to be a cartoon illustrator.
“I am driven,” Koelling said. “When I have a passion for something I want to make it happen and I want to see it through as long as it’s for the betterment of the majority of Foster City.”
Koelling has brought her passion for Foster City to the California League of Cities, demanding that the sleepy suburb known to most of the Bay Area as the last exit before the San Mateo Bridge be noticed.
“She’s kind of put Foster City on the map as far as the county is concerned,” council member Pam Frisella said.
“She shows up at all the (League of California Cities) meetings and tells people that there is a Foster City, and that we should be included in all the talks and everything that’s going in the rest of the county.
“I think the county knows who we are more now after eight years than it did before.”
Frisella described Koelling as a consensus-builder who was able to bring together different personalities, and brought a sense of professionalism to the table.
Koelling’s departure from the council is a sad day for Foster City, Frisella said.
“She’s been my friend for 30 years and she’s done a lot for this city,” Frisella said.
“She will definitely be missed.”
Koelling said her short-term plans including spending more time with her four grandchildren.
And despite some trepidations about an uncertain future, Koelling said she’s looking forward to new challenges, even if she doesn’t know exactly what they are yet.
“Sometimes I turn around and look in the mirror and say ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’
“That’s kind of the way I’m looking at it. I’m looking forward to the next challenge and the next adventure.”