Early in the 2017 election cycle, Emily Niehaus said she was asked if she is “fit” to be the face of Moab. Now, as mayor-elect, Niehaus aims to prove there is no one face capable of representing the community, and serve as a representative for the many, multidimensional faces of Moab.
“I don’t plan to be the face, just the face that brings us all together,” Niehaus said.
When Niehaus moved to Moab in 2002, she faced the things every Moab resident encounters in this city: finding affordable housing and a job. Since then, she has had a diverse array of jobs that put her in contact with a number of the faces of Moab. In her experiences working with a rafting company, as a caseworker for the state of Utah, as a bookkeeper with Western Spirit Cycling, as a loan officer for Eastern Community Credit Union and as a social entrepreneur with Community Rebuilds, she also had the opportunity to make connections with many of Moab’s residents in different circles, but she said she has learned firsthand examples of different types of industry in the city.
And when Niehaus sums up how she feels about her life here in Moab, she told The Times-Independent her answer is simple: grateful.
“The thing that encouraged me to run for mayor most is that I am so fortunate to have a house and a job and a life in Moab,” she explained, “I can pay my bills and I’m raising my son, and he said to me just yesterday that he thinks he might be the luckiest kid in the world. So I made the joke that I would be hoarding if I didn’t find a deeper way to be of service to the community. So this is all giving back.”
Now that she’s won the mayor’s office, Niehaus is ready to get moving. Among her priorities are providing affordable housing for the full spectrum of needs in the community, empowering developers and those involved in creating additional infrastructure, providing easily accessible high speed internet and encouraging economic diversification. It’s not just her own agenda she wants to pursue, though.
“I still have a lot of work to do to meet the full spectrum of Moab residents, but I do plan this year on being a really good listener,” she emphasized, “because not only do I have a lot to learn about the position, but we at city hall need to do a good job of listening. I think when residents have an issue that’s going on in the city, usually a solution can be teased out of a problem. We always joke at community rebuilds that the problem is the solution, you just have to be a really good listener to be able to hear it.”
Niehaus said she knows her tenure as mayor will be challenging; for the past 16 years, Moab has only known Mayor David Sakrisen.
“[Sakrison’s] time in office is both impressive and telling,” she said. “Some Moab residents may not be ready or willing to embrace change. I know that I may not be someone’s ideal candidate, or someone’s ideal mayor, [but] there’s no amount of makeup or hairstyle or clothing choice, structural change I could make [that would change that]. And my goal is not to be working hard to prove that I am the new face and the new mayor. The face of Moab is best represented by the people that participate in governing our community. And that’s not the mayor, it’s not the council and it’s not even the staff at city hall. I think of the face of Moab as being the people that you meet each day.”
Niehaus said she is aware of just how diverse the population of Moab is and recognizes their many different needs. During her campaigning efforts, she experienced firsthand just how difficult it can be, and how many different methods it takes, to reach out to every facet of the local population. Niehaus does not paint an idyllic picture in which she can solve them all, but she is dedicated to what she views as her duty to allow every citizen the ability to have their issue heard, documented, and responded to at city hall. She is challenging the residents of Moab to become engaged and participate in their local government in a big way.
“The people that live in Moab, we’re scrappy,” she remarked, “That’s what binds us: the tough love of living in Moab.”