Her parents, while proud of their daughter’s accomplishments, took her selection in stride. They stated simply, “Do your best.”
At the urging of several local politicos, she filed to reenter the race as a candidate, submitting the paperwork the day before the deadline.
“I thought, ‘I kind of like this!’” she remembers, speaking of her work on the council. “I believed I was making a difference. And I wanted to continue assisting the city of El Centro in meeting its goals.”
Therefore, in the March 1985 special election, she ran against eight other candidates in a controversial race and won by a landslide. Her fellow council members gave her a nod as she was chosen mayor in November later that year. At that time, she also served weekend duty for the local chapter of the American Red Cross where her international skills could be tested as she collaborated with fellow Red Cross volunteers aiding Americans involved in the conflict in Beirut.
The early 1980s was a time of economic upheaval, a world in which gas shortages and high fuel prices were sending families into economic spirals. Her mother Edith, while sympathetic with the plight of the citizens, felt it important to share with her daughter the experience of living through two world wars and a depression.
“It gave me a dose of reality and what’s really important,” Sanders says.
In instances when things did not turn out as planned or hoped for, Sanders felt an obligation to either explain or apologize to her constituents and, in that way, honor her father’s credo of her word being her bond.
Instrumental in helping bring the local prisons to the Valley to benefit the work force, she has valiantly advocated for bringing jobs and employment opportunities to Valley residents.
In 1992, Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to his Task Force on Rural Competitiveness, and she chaired the Education Sub-Committee until he re-appointed her again in 1994 as vice-chair of the Rural Development Council.
And yet, accolades are not what she is after. She’s looking for results.
“I’m comfortable working in the background,” she says. “It’s not important who gets credit as long as we get the end result.”
She has the distinction of serving on the Salvation Army board for over 20 years as well as being the first woman accepted into the El Centro Kiwanis. She was recognized as the first woman Kiwanian of the Year and then elected the first woman president of the service group in 1993. As president, she guided them as they built a house for a needy family through Habitats for Humanity.
Bringing large groups of people together for a common goal despite their different backgrounds, interests, educational levels, religions and ethnicities is something she delights in accomplishing, she says.
“I speak to them on areas of interest that bring us together, not those things that divide us.”
Sanders’ public service branched out into the state and national arena, and she served as president of the League of California Cities in 1995-96. In 1996, she was elected for a two-year term to the board of directors of the National League of Cities.
Running for Imperial County Supervisor in 1990, she lost an election for the first time when she did not garner enough votes for a win. She tasted loss again when she left the El Centro council in 1999 and made a failed run for the California State Senate 37th District in 2000. But she has no lingering disappointment from her losses.
“Leaders are not made just from winning,” she points out. “Losing can strengthen your resolve and commitment to public service. I have no regrets.”
In 2001, then-Governor Gray Davis appointed her to the 45th District Agricultural Association board of directors, and she was also elected to the El Centro Elementary School District board where she served a two-year term, including one as president.
She reentered the city of El Centro’s political field in 2003 when she won another term on the council where she continues to serve today. With four one-year terms serving as mayor under her belt, she has been instrumental in the growth, advancement and dreams of her hometown city.
In 2009, she was the recipient of the National League of Cities Women in Municipal Government Leadership Award. Traveling to Washington D.C. and other lobby hot spots, she works tirelessly to keep Imperial Valley and the issues affecting it in the forefront of political consciousness of the U.S. President and Governor of California, as well as state and congressional members.
Sanders has continued her education, earning a Bachelor of Science and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. Her husband Albert retired from the El Centro School District in 2002 after 45 years and after earning the distinction of Employee of the Year.
In the humble home she and Albert have shared for 45 years, there is a wall of family photos that spans seven generations — a visual reminder of her history and the family love that has brought them to this sweet spot in their lives.
Although her vibrant dark hair has grayed, Sanders shows no other signs of aging. She says she balances her busy schedule by compartmentalizing the many positions and jobs she holds within the scope of her church, her city and her family. She aspires to continue serving the people and the city she loves and hopes to achieve that by examining multiple philosophies, angles and possibilities, “…and then I work like the dickens to make it become a reality.”
Cover Story Sedalia Sanders: Small-Town Background ... Diverse Foundation