From the increasing momentum of the farm-to-fork movement, to groundbreaking legislation protecting victims of sex trafficking, to finding new ways to celebrate diversity among people and industry, Sacramento seems to be getting cooler by the day. The eight women profiled here are some of the most influential architects of cool here in the City of Trees, using their passions, skills and unwavering civic pride to shape the city into a place where women from all walks of life can thrive personally and professionally.
District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and Deputy Attorney General Amy Alley work to make streets safer, creating and enforcing policies with both empathy and objectivity. Restaurateur Molly Hawks and River Cats owner Susan Savage train their staff members to ensure that diners and fans always have a place to come together to unwind and have a good time. As chief operating officer of Dignity Health’s Mercy General Hospital, Clare Lee works to help people get better with an understanding that healing is about more than medicine. Kelly Rivas, transition chief for the office of Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, and Kim Tucker, executive director of 3fold Connect, are tirelessly making connections to empower underserved community members and foster thriving community programs. Oak Park native Maria Harrington is injecting language and culture into the city through the work of her Spanish language school and cultural center, bringing people together over the simple act of conversation.
Sacramento is a city that is constantly in motion, and these eight women can be found at the center of it. Representing a wide swath of backgrounds, interests and paths, they help make the city what it is today while using their influence to sketch out a blueprint for the future, which is looking cooler than ever.
Transition Chief, Office of Mayor-Elect Darrell Steinberg
In 2009, Kelly Rivas moved to Sacramento with zero desire to work for an elected official and a plan to stay in town for just two years before moving on. Seven years later, she managed Darrell Steinberg’s mayoral campaign and, following a victorious election, promptly accepted an offer to stay on. Rivas’ failure to stick to that two-year, no-jobs-with-electedofficials plan is about the only example of failure you’ll find on her resume. In less than a decade living in Sacramento, the 31-year-old has gone from community organizer to trusted mayoral adviser. She was also a founding member of FemDems—an organization that promotes feminist principles in politics—and was selected to represent the city within the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.
How did you go from thinking you’d stay here for just two years to fully embracing the city the way you do now?
My first couple of years in Sacramento were really like grad school for me. I was living in an apartment in Oak Park right above the Ace of Fades barber shop. I signed the lease sight unseen because the pictures looked great, the price was right, and the landlord was super personable. (laughs) I got involved with the Oak Park Neighborhood Association and quickly fell in love with the city. When we founded the Sacramento chapter of FemDems in 2009, my Oak Park apartment was the hub. We wanted to empower women and create opportunities, and the time was right for us to take initiative.
How did you get into politics?
I wasn’t particularly interested in politics for the sake of politics, but it touched a lot of things I was passionate about, like community engagement, connecting people and negating apathy. I worked on grass-roots political movements in the western states as a senior policy consultant with Jim Gonzalez & Associates, which I loved. I didn’t want to deal with bureaucracy, and I saw government jobs as a rat race. Then one day an opportunity to work with Ami Bera came up. We were soon on the phone, and he asked me to come work for him. I knew Ami; I trusted him. It was an amazing opportunity and I took it. I learned what government does, how it functions, impacts a region, helps people.
So there was no turning back?
When Darrell and Lisa Gasperoni (political consultant for Steinberg’s campaign) called to talk about the campaign manager job, I thought: no way. I had some self-doubt about my ability to manage a campaign at that level—Darrell’s a legend! But when Faith Whitmore, my supervisor for Congressman Bera at the time, and Susan McKee, Darrell’s old district director, told me to get my butt in gear, I knew they were right. I got excited about the campaign. Darrell wanted to bring joy to each day, and I loved that. I wrote a plan and got to work.
Well, your plan obviously worked! What now?
I feel the same pressure I think a lot of women feel to be involved and realize our potential. I think the city has really high expectations for what Darrell will accomplish as mayor, and I’ve found myself right at the center of it. We’ll be effecting positive change for our city and I feel fully engaged in that. We want to empower all voices.
CEO/Majority Owner, Sacramento River Cats
When Art Savage, majority owner of the Sacramento River Cats from 1999 to 2009, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, his wife, Susan Savage, started working in the team store. “That’s where I got my toes wet,” she says of the on-the-job training she pursued in preparation for taking over ownership duties. She quickly breaks into a hearty laugh, adding, “But I was never very good at the cash register!” She has no shortage of funny, self-deprecating, touching quips. She seems like she’d be just as at home serving beers to the fans in the cheap seats as she would overseeing the millions of dollars in donations made by the River Cats Foundation. It’s no wonder everyone in town loves her.
You had to jump right into running the show without a ton of prior experience. Were you intimidated?
I’m not really much of a baseball person, so I was very intimidated at first. I was worried I’d sound stupid when someone asked me what I thought about a certain player or something technical about the game. The San Francisco Giants manage the actual baseball, though. Once I realized my job was really to put on 72 parties a year-to create an environment that’s safe, fun and family-friendly-once I got my head around that, I knew i could do it. My business is taking care of the fans.
What were the most important lessons you learned?
I learned real quick that I couldn’t do it myself. I had to learn how to empower my team.
You’re one of very few women in a male-dominated industry. How has that come into play?
It doesn’t even cross my mind. You just have to be really good at what you do, just like a man does. If you’re good at what you do, it all works out.
You’ve had a front-row seat to a lot of change in the city over the past decade. What do you see shaping Sacramento’s future most?
I think everybody is excited about the future of Sacramento right now. We truly have the best of both worlds: It’s vibrant but it still feels like a small town in a way. The new arena has totally energized the city, and I think the streetcar will be huge. Traffic and parking are a challenge for any growing city, and when people can get around easily, it benefits everyone. There’s so much to do here.
What do you want the fans to know?
I just want them to come on down and enjoy a night at the ballgame!
Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice
Amy Alley’s office in the state Capitol building is a little bare at the time of our interview, as she is about to leave her post as director of communications for the California State Assembly to take a new job as the deputy attorney general. The Wonder Woman coffee mug on her desk remains, though. Given her track record of accomplishments—developing humantrafficking legislation; helping establish the Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color; serving as the vice president of the California Capitol Black Staff Association—the mug seems only appropriate.
Congratulations on your new job as deputy attorney general. What excites you most about it?
(Attorney General) Kamala Harris is a hero of mine, so this is really a dream come true. I’ve covered so many areas in law and legislation, from drafting the law to implementing the law; this is really the next level. I’ll be able to use the connections I’ve made to work with the AG to actually develop policies. It’s the last spoke in the legislative wheel for me.
What defines you as an attorney?
I knew I’d never be a trial attorney. My talent was writing, and I knew I needed to find a profession where I could use that. I have to be fulfilled. My first job as an attorney was for the legislative counsel, doing strict readings of the law for any member of the legislature that needed help, regardless of whether or not I agreed with their position. I had to be totally objective; there were no ulterior motives. It’s really the purest form of the law, and I loved that. I come from a multiracial family, and I think that gives me a different perspective of the world. I see both sides, which I think makes me more empathetic. At the heart of my thinking is the idea that we’re all in this together.
How does Sacramento foster that kind of thinking?
I have a really positive image of Sacramento. I see so many young leaders doing really good things. There’s so much talent here. During my time in the Capitol, I’ve seen so many talented, smart women start their careers and be totally embraced and encouraged by more veteran women here. It’s awesome.
How do you unwind after a long day?
Nature is my resting place, so I love to walk along the river when I can. I also love the Music Circus … and Chandos Tacos.
Owner, Casa de Español
When Maria Harrington opened Casa de Español in 2013, she wasn’t sure how she’d ever fill the 750-square-foot space above Tapa The World restaurant on J Street. After being told she had too much education and not enough experience for existing jobs in Spanish education, she opted to take a risk and open her own school instead, with hopes of growing it into a cultural center one day as well. Earlier this year, Harrington and her team moved the school to a 3,900-square-foot facility on R Street and led a trip through Morocco and Spain with a group of 23 students, so it’s safe to say that Harrington figured out how to fill the space.
Why are you so passionate about sharing the Spanish language and cultures?
I love traveling, and there’s just something so special about Latin America. The vibe of the plaza in a Latin American city is unlike anything else. We felt like people would share that draw if we could give them a taste of it. There’s also so much social activism that can be done within Latin American culture, and we wanted to address that.
Who are your typical students?
When we opened, we thought the majority of our students would be Latino. A lot of kids from Spanish-speaking homes grow to think of Spanish as inferior to English, and sometimes they lose the language completely. Initially, though, it was the non-Latino community that began enrolling in our Spanish classes. I think being based in midtown gave us a lot of visibility, and it just ended up being very diverse.
You eventually started offering English as a Second Language classes as well. How does that fit into your mission?
In 2013, we started the ESL program with 10 students, and 90 percent of them were on full scholarships. We found that when we’d tell our non-Latino Spanish students to practice speaking Spanish with a friend, a lot of them would tell us they didn’t have a single Latino friend. The ESL students help tutor our Spanish students, which creates a really cool community. So many of our students are excited to just have a conversation with someone outside their basic niche. A lot of ESL students work in the service industry and feel looked down on or at-risk, but when they come to Casa de Español they engage with doctors, lawyers and business owners. Making friends is a huge part of what we’re about.
What is your vision for developing a Spanish cultural center as well?
Now that we have the space, we can finally create the true cultural center that we always dreamed about. We want it to be an environment for the Sacramento community at large to learn about new places, make networking connections, develop friendships and resources, and discover a respect and appreciation for being bilingual. We lead service trips to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas through our nonprofit, Help Chiapas (helpchiapas.org), and the more community engagement we create with our cultural center, the more awareness we can raise for those indigenous people as well. Soon, we hope to develop a mentorship program for teens that focuses on SAT prep and college applications, using our community and our resources to make those connections.
Executive Director, 3fold Connect and The Impact Foundry
When Kim Tucker stepped in to relaunch and rebrand The Impact Foundry—formerly known as the Nonprofit Resource Center—last July, she wasn’t interested in simply finding more resources to grow the local nonprofit sector. “We need expectations and excellence in our nonprofits,” she says. “It’s not about making more nonprofits; it’s about making them more effective, creating measurable results and financial sustainability.” A year after Tucker took over, The Impact Foundry hosted the What If Conference in October, bringing more than 500 nonprofit professionals and board volunteers together at the McClellan Conference Center for a day of learning and networking.
You’re the executive director of 3fold Connect, and now you’re running The Impact Foundry as well. How does it all fit together for you?
I truly believe that the quality of life in a community can be gauged by the nonprofit sector. I have been blessed to work these past 10 years at 3fold and to launch their community-based work, and running The Impact Foundry is really an extension of that work. Gordon Fowler, CEO at 3fold, has paid my salary this past year while I’ve focused almost entirely on The Impact Foundry, which speaks to his personality and his love for Sacramento. If we’re not supporting people in need here in our community, what do we have to show for ourselves?
What changes have you implemented in how The Impact Foundry is run?
It takes all four sectors to create sustainable community change: nonprofits as well as government, business and philanthropy. We’ve developed a partnership with Sac State to implement a faculty model and offer certifications for our nonprofits. We have to professionalize the sector, to take the best practices from the business world and realize that we no longer have to take a vow of poverty to help the world. Moving from a charitable model to a value-added model allows us to take a better look at the economic impact we’re having.
How do you stay the course?
I ask myself two questions every day: Have we helped someone today, and have we made any money today?
What makes Sacramento the right city for this work?
I see national best practices born here, from the ways we’re addressing homelessness to food insecurity to education. There’s so much civic pride in Sacramento. I feel like Sacramento came out sometime in the last decade. I came out a long time ago, so I understand what a big deal that is! This is a place to be really proud of.
Chief Operating Officer, Dignity Health Mercy General Hospital
When Clare Lee was a little girl, she wanted to be a doctor or a vet, going so far as to volunteer as a candy striper at the local hospital in her hometown in Tulsa, Okla. After her father discouraged her from pursuing a career in medicine, believing that doctors would be practicing “socialized medicine” by the time she graduated from college, she opted to study business and obtain an MBA. After six years in the Texas oil industry, she found her way back into the hospital, working her way up the ladder at The Methodist Hospital in Houston for 20 years before accepting her current position in 2015 as chief operating officer at Dignity Health Mercy General Hospital in East Sac.
After more than three decades in Texas, you’re still relatively new to Sacramento. What do you think of the city so far?
I actually grew up coming to Tahoe for family vacations, and we’d usually fly into Sacramento. I always loved it here. It feels like quintessential California to me—very fun and vibrant. Plus the weather is just phenomenal and there’s so much to do outside. I’m really loving all the farm-to-fork stuff and the fact that people seem so open-minded here.
Why were you drawn to the medical field?
I could have easily stayed in the oil industry and made a ton of money working eight-hour days, but I felt that I just wasn’t matching my values. My mom was a homemaker and volunteered a lot, so I grew up seeing the value of helping people. I thought that even though I wasn’t a doctor, I could help patients indirectly by making hospital employees’ lives better and making the leadership team members’ jobs easier. I’m always looking for ways to fix things and make things better in a way that helps people in real, meaningful ways. My heart truly lies with the mission here.
How does Mercy General Hospital differ from your previous hospital in Texas?
There’s a lot more diversity here, and I think the hospital does a great job with that. We have a phone system at the patient’s bedside that translates into hundreds of languages. We definitely
didn’t have that in Houston. Our leadership is really diverse as well, and everyone gets along really well.
What improvements would you like to see in health care?
The one thing that stands out to me is a lack of mental health care services. I think in part due to our location, we get a lot of foot traffic—people coming in off the streets needing help. Mental health has been so stigmatized, and a lot of people don’t view it as a medical problem. Dignity is part of a local Mental Health Improvement Coalition that is working to make things better, which is so important. Healing is not just a medical thing.
What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
The best part of my day is the management team rounds, where we get to actually connect with patients. I call it my “golden hour.” That’s why I’m here.
Anne Marie Schubert
Sacrament County District Attorney
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert jokes that she went to law school for the wrong reasons. “Back then, it seemed like there were two career paths to make good money: doctor or lawyer. And I didn’t like blood.” She quickly developed a true passion for her work as a DA, however, finding that it allowed her “a professional ability to be a public servant and right the wrongs that threatened the community.”
What’s been your proudest moment in your career as a DA?
I’ve been very fortunate to be passionate about my career for 20 years here in Sacramento. I got involved in forensic DNA early in my career and developed a real interest in those cases. In 2000, I used creative strategies to file an arrest warrant for a John Doe rapist using his DNA, which led us to identify him and put him behind bars. We were able to follow the law and make the community safer, so that’s definitely one of my proudest moments.
Much of your professional life has been focused on prosecuting violent crimes like child abuse and homicide. How do you leave that at work at the end of the day?
There have definitely been times I’ve felt I’ve seen the absolute worst in society. I’m mortified it happens, but you have to focus on empathy for the victims and fairness for the defendant. You get to a point where you realize you have a job to do and you’re less effective if you let personal emotion get involved. I also remind myself that this is a very minute part of the population; there really is an overall goodness in humanity.
How does your work shape your view of Sacramento?
Having grown up here, I used to think I’d never come back. As time went on, I realized it’s a pretty cool place. The goal of any parent is to raise kids in a safe community, and we do a pretty darn good job in Sacramento. A diverse community is a healthy thing, and we embrace that here. I think Sacramento is a great reflection of our country as a whole.
What legacy do you hope to leave?
I have 8- and 12-year-old kids, and I think all parents want a better life for their child. I want to be defined by the work I do for this community and by my dealings with other community leaders. I hope we’re judged by what we do and what we’ve contributed.
Owner/Chef, Hawks and Hawks Provisons + Public House
After frequent visits to Granite Bay to visit her parents, who had retired there in 2005, Molly Hawks and her husband, Michael Fagnoni, felt there was a lack of family-owned, individualized restaurant concepts in the area. “Granite Bay is a meat-and-potatoes kind of community, and it seemed like the only options were big chain restaurants,” she notes. After attending culinary school as a reprieve from medical school, and working her way up in the kitchen in San Francisco’s Village Pub, Hawks decided it was time to shake up the local fine dining scene. She opened Hawks restaurant in 2007 with her husband. The restaurant was immediately successful, and the couple expanded the concept to Hawks Provisions + Public House in East Sacramento in 2015.
You opened Hawks before people were using the term “farm to fork” in Sacramento. How has the local F2F movement shaped the dining scene since then?
There’s a lot of curiosity among our customers about fun items we bring in for our menu. The farm-to-fork movement has brought so much awareness to where food comes from and how that impacts quality and flavor, which allows us to bring in produce from small farms and actually see it sell. We do a dish with roasted peppers and jalapeno cream, for example, that’s such a simple dish. But the peppers are just perfect, and people get it because they understand what we’re doing.
There’s been a lot of growth in the city as a whole and especially in the local restaurant scene since you opened your doors. How have you adapted over the years?
The recession hit not long after we opened, and that’s really when we learned how to run a restaurant. Rent was expensive and we had a hard time for a while, but we stayed true to ourselves and our product. We learned how to tune in to what’s needed and not be afraid to make changes. That’s when we started offering a Sunday Supper, which was a three-course prix-fixe menu for $35. People loved it.
Any creative ideas that didn’t do as well?
I had this idea to do picnic baskets once, and I was convinced it would be awesome. I think we sold about five! We’re constantly fine-tuning.
You’ve had three kids while you’ve been running Hawks. What’s it like to grow your family while simultaneously growing your business?
It’s been crazy. My kids have grown up in the restaurant. I was constantly carrying my oldest around on my hip when we first opened, and I was kind of embarrassed about it at first, like, “Oh my God, we have this fine-dining restaurant and here I am with a baby in the dining room.” But our guests were really receptive to the fact that we were a family-owned restaurant. I don’t think it would have gone over as well in San Francisco or Los Angeles, but it’s a more friendly scene here. It brought some personality.
Where do you go to eat when you’re not at Hawks?
We eat at our restaurant a lot because we know our kids won’t get kicked out! But we also love sushi at Kru, and even though it’s not a full restaurant, I love what Ginger Elizabeth is doing.