Sky’s The Limit
How a councilmember torched her career
By R.E. Graswich
Summer brought an unwelcome spectacle to City Hall when an unknown who became somebody let an even bigger nobody crash her political career.
The first nobody is City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, who rose from obscurity last year to bounce incumbent Steve Hansen into retirement. Valenzuela is a tireless campaigner who benefited from personality traits absent in Hansen—humility, sincerity and the willingness to listen and learn. Voters liked her passion for community issues.
They also liked the fact that she wasn’t Steve Hansen.
Arriving at City Hall in December’s pandemic frost, Valenzuela didn’t enjoy a stellar start. She exasperated veteran members with endless philosophical meanderings as she worked her way through issues. She often ignored the first rule of politics: When the votes are lined up, shut up.
Such annoyances were forgivable in a new councilmember, especially one who never served on a school board or planning commission. Valenzuela acknowledged her confusion over council practices and procedures. She was dazzled by the parliamentary voodoo of Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a magician who can tip his top hat and make white doves flutter from a consent agenda.
Valenzuela was in deep waters over her head, but that’s OK. She was growing into her position and sincere about her progress.
Then she embarked on a suicide mission. The rookie councilmember who represents Downtown, Midtown, Land Park and Little Pocket asked a nobody named Skyler Michel-Evleth to join her City Hall staff. He handles social media and constituent calls.
As jobs go, the labor expected of Michel-Evleth was entry level. Council offices have happily used high school interns to post social media greetings and respond to complaints about illegal dumping and badly parked vehicles. The work was not heavy lifting.
Unfortunately for Valenzuela, Michel-Evleth is not a college intern. He’s a grownup performance artist and attention seeker whose stage name is Skyler Henry. He produced podcasts where the audience, while small, was not influential.
Serially unoriginal, Michel-Evleth embarked on his quest to gain attention by presenting himself as a detached, avuncular radical. He threw no Molotov cocktails, but told his less hip audience members that such acts as terrorizing the domestic serenity of Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chan were perfectly acceptable.
Naturally, Michel-Evleth declined to get his clothes dirty and risk arrest. He left the grunt work to his handful of listeners.
Soon enough, his tiny audience included Steinberg, Chan, Police Chief Daniel Hahn and City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood. When the City Council realized Michel-Evleth was the same Skyler Henry hired to post videos for Valenzuela, eight councilmembers not named Valenzuela instructed Alcala Wood to block the attention seeker from City Hall with a judicial restraining order.
Despite Alcala Wood’s best efforts, the judge was not impressed. He tried to temper hostilities by explaining that blowhards can pretty much say what whey want. But it was too late. Supported by Valenzuela, Michel-Evleth engaged his own lawyers—experienced, professional agitators. The City Hall Uncivil War was on.
The war might have ended with a whimper if Michel-Evleth took responsibility for his words, wrote a resignation letter and freed his naïve, young boss from the corner into which she painted herself. That’s how these mistakes typically disappear. But ego and principle and opportunity spun out of control. Good sense evaporated.
Valenzuela wrapped herself and her new staff member around the First Amendment. She told me she would rather sacrifice her political career than squelch someone’s freedom of speech. The city’s position was also righteous. The homes and families of Chan and Steinberg were terrorized, with the perpetrators publicly supported by Michel-Evleth.
If this sad story comes down to a piety test, Valenzuela loses. No one questions Michel-Evleth’s right to make idiotic remarks. But nightriders who assault homes and terrorize the families of Chan and Steinberg are shameful and gutless. They don’t deserve support at City Hall.
Valenzuela should know better. When she hires someone who promotes or endorses property damage against public officials, her credibility collapses. Her fitness to serve becomes questionable. In self-reverential defense, Valenzuela and Michel-Evleth sound eerily similar to proud patriots who defend their normal tourist visit to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Valenzuela’s term runs to 2024—a political eternity from now. Michel-Evleth seems like a forgettable character. Katie better hope so.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento