The Future of Community Empowerment and Public Health Leadership with Dr. Flojaune Cofer

Dr. Flo Cofer, a passionate advocate for public health and mayoral candidate, shares her inspiring journey of striving for community well-being and social justice. With a background in epidemiology, Dr. Cofer discusses her vision of bringing transformative changes to public health policies, focusing on inclusivity and addressing the root causes of health disparities.

In this episode of the Culture Leaders Podcast, Dr. Cofer delves into her “why” – a personal mission fueled by her father’s untimely death and the impact of public health policies on communities. She articulates her approach to public service, emphasizing the importance of participatory decision-making and advocating for policies that serve the broader community interests.

Join us as Dr. Cofer takes us through her aspirations for the city of Sacramento, sharing her perspectives on the intersection of public health and political leadership, and her dedication to creating a more equitable and healthy society.

Notable quotes

“My why really is rooted in my childhood. It comes from understanding that public health is about the number of years in our life and the amount of life in our years.” – Flojaune Cofer

“We don’t have to choose a reality that doesn’t serve us.” – Flojaune Cofer

“The bitter is the money in politics. The bitter is the fear and the kind of deeply entrenched way that we always do things. But the sweet are the people.” – Flojaune Cofer

“We can’t do it without the people in our community and we’ll do it so much more efficiently and with so much more joy.”
– Flojaune Cofer

“Everything we want is on the other side of hard work and everything we want is on the other side of being afraid of what might happen.” – Flojaune Cofer

Useful links

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Website: https://www.floformayor.com/

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Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Dr. Cofer, what is your why?

Dr. Flo Cofer: My why really is rooted in my childhood. It comes from understanding that public health is about the number of years in our life and the amount of life in our years. And I really wanna maximize that because I know directly the impact of not having the years that we’d like to have and that I believe that we deserve. My dad died when I was 11 of heart disease. And it was the result unfortunately of him starting smoking.

At a time, he would be in his 70s if he were still alive. And at a time when the tobacco industry lied and said their products were actually good for us, knowing full well that they did cause cancer and heart disease, and also heavily marketed in communities like the ones I grew up in, black communities, Latino communities. And so I think a lot about the fact that so few people smoke these days, in part because of policies that exist to protect us.

And my dad never had that opportunity to be able to know what he was consuming and to be able to stop before, you know, he got addicted. And so I understand that importance. And that’s my why. My why is that there’s more is possible. Like we don’t have to accept everything that we are experiencing right now. All of this is made up. I remind myself that every day, every law, the way we see the world, all of these things are.

Are made up and so we don’t have to choose a reality that doesn’t serve us. And so my why for engaging in public health, my why for running for mayor of Sacramento is more is possible. We can do so much more with the resources we have. We can have so much more for ourselves and our families. And I think most of us have very similar goals. And where we get challenged is, can we get there is the first question. And then how do we get there is the second question that we sometimes get caught up in. But I think we need to remind ourselves that we can.

We can live the lives that we want to live.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, there’s the, you know, there’s the leaders that come from the heart, the leaders that you spend a little bit of time with and you’re like, oh, this one’s for real. And then there’s the leaders that know what to say, read all the books, say the right things. But there’s just that lack of authenticity. You I’ve known you for a long time. We weren’t necessarily like very close friends. We were in adjacent circles and I watched you. And you have that authenticity. The I will tell a story to.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Have the listeners understand why I believe that. When my dad died, we have that in common. You and I, we had never like hung out at my house, right? I mean, we weren’t that close. You called me and you said, I’m really good at writing obituaries. Would you like me to write your father’s obituary for you? And I was blown away. Cause not only were you offering me help in a moment where everyone needs help, you had something specific, which is what they always say to do. Don’t just say, how can I help? Right? You’re like, I have a-

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: How can I help? If there’s anything you need, right? Like you’re gonna pay my mortgage?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, you’re like Liam Neeson. I have a I have a very particular set of skills around the obituary and I was like holy moly like that is service that’s servant leadership you know showing up and saying I can help and here’s how and I’m happy to do it so I’ve always admired you I think that you have heart your why I was really curious to hear what your why is because

It actually is such a beautiful story that ties together all of these different phases of your life. So you were an epidemiologist, now you’re running for mayor, which is a totally different world, especially in Sacramento, which is the capital of California. I mean, to me, that sounds like an absolute nightmare to be running for mayor. What is it like? I mean, is it a nightmare?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes and no, right? I mean, there are parts of this that are, I mean, it’s hard work, obviously. And there are parts of this that are really challenging. I won’t, you know, lie about that. It’s really difficult to call all of your friends and family and everyone you’ve ever known and ask them for money. That is the hard part of doing this, right? It is difficult to be everywhere and everything all at once, right? You’re trying to get out and, you know, and for me, because I’ve never been elected before.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: And I’m running against people who have, I’m also trying to build name recognition. So some people are familiar with me, some people aren’t, and so that’s the biggest hurdle. And so those parts are challenging, but I’m also an extrovert. And so I get a lot of energy from being around people and humans are incredibly adaptable. And so I think we all have begun to adapt to this new reality we live in, in the world after the onset of COVID. I don’t wanna call it post-COVID because…we’re having a huge surge right now. And so we’re clearly not post COVID in any way, in any more than we’re post flu, but right, but in the world where, right? It’s not a thing, but in the world, you know, where we had COVID shutdowns and where we were very disconnected from one another, I don’t think I realized how much fear I had that we were gonna kind of draw back into our existing social networks and never meet new people and be unwilling to step outside of that.

And so, literally walking up to strangers’ doors and knocking on their doors and saying, hi, I’m Flo, I’m running for mayor. What do you care about in this city? Has given me so much energy being able to go to community events and shake hands and kiss babies, or the way I like to joke about it is shake babies and kiss hands, has just been really like, it’s been so energizing to me because I’ve felt more grounded and more connected to our community than I ever did. And so I would say, you know, you have, just like they say, take the bitter with the sweet, I think.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m sorry.

Dr. Flo Cofer: The bitter is the money in politics. The bitter is the fear and the kind of deeply entrenched way that we always do things. But the sweet are the people. And that’s why I’m running a people-powered campaign. And I think it makes it so much more of an enjoyable experience when your why is tied into your how.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, I mean, a people powered campaign. This is the thing that we’re most interested in, right? We interview the masters of movements who understand that there’s not this separation between people and results. It’s not like one or the other. You can either focus on results or you can focus on your people and never the twain shall meet. That’s not it. It’s if you focus on your people, then you will drive results.

There are leaders who get that and there are leaders who not get that, who don’t get that. And the more we can talk to people who get that, the more hopefully we can unleash the power of culture, which is ultimately the goal. So how would you, how do you do that? A people-focused campaign. How do you, with your volunteers, with your staff, how do you motivate them leveraging the power of culture to get a result, which the result is very clear. It’s a win, right? It’s you’re either gonna win or you’re not gonna win. You’re all gonna know whether you were successful. How do you do that?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm. Exactly.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, I think part of the way that we do that is we demystify processes that, you know, previously were kind of behind the curtain and we’re accessible to people. So, you know, we don’t assume that everybody’s coming into this having ever been a part of a campaign before, having ever knocked on a door before or called someone. And so we start with, you know, what are the what are the things you’re good at? What are the things you’re interested in learning? How do we build those skills and how do we make you comfortable?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: How do we make this about you telling your story? So one of the things I always tell people is that we are running for mayor, right? My name is on the ballot, but this is our campaign. And so that means when you’re going to the door, you’re gonna talk about your why and what you want to see for the city. You don’t have to memorize my platform. We have a website, you have literature to hand to people, all of that. What you’re talking about and you’re connecting with people is what do they care about? What do you care about? And how can we come together to make that work?

And so that’s a lot less intimidating than please memorize 18 pages of all of my policy positions on everything, you know, in the world. It’s, it’s about us. Um, and ultimately humans are storytellers and we’re creatures who really focus on trust. And so when you’re at the door, you can talk about why you trust me, what you’re hoping for and elicit from other people, what they care about and how those come together and bring us to this moment. I think another piece that we’ve seen is, you know, just,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Demystifying even the money part of it, right? Like it’s great to be able to give a maximum contribution, which in my race is like $4,000. But if you have five, 10, 15, 25, that helps. If you can do a recurring donation, right? Of a few dollars every month, that helps. All of those things add up and they support the campaign. And one of the most beautiful things is being able to see the printout of all the people who’ve contributed to my campaign. And it’s just pages and pages long because they are smaller dollar contributors, they’re people who’ve never given before. They’re people who are asking you questions like, do I have to put down my employer? And what does that mean? Because this is new for them, but it’s exciting because they’ve felt like they haven’t had a voice. And to your point, I think part of what, you’re absolutely right that people is the way that we get to outcomes. And I think our elected leadership and the structure that we put in place has made it seem like people are the obstacle to overcome to get to the outcomes, instead of the very fabric and necessary piece to being able to have really long-term sustainable outcomes. We can’t do it without the people in our community and we’ll do it so much more efficiently and with so much more joy. We will all get something out of it when we’re working together toward a shared goal.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: It’s interesting going back a step to them talking about their why that is you’re talking about purpose fit, which is something I think is 10 times more powerful and actually positive contribute contributing to the culture than culture fit culture fit is a scam. Culture fit is just an excuse for unconscious bias to come into the decision making process right it’s we want people like us and then you’re going to get a bunch of people that are like you surrounding you.

Purpose fit is what’s your why? Here’s our why. Do you think you could get your why by helping us with our why? Is our why gonna help you get towards your personal why? And I interview that way. And it sounds like you train that way and you encourage the people on your volunteers and your staff to do that as well. I mean, that spreads that authenticity that we started with everywhere. I mean, people are going to latch on to that and it just resonates because there’s something inside us that just knows when it’s real and when it’s not, right? Yeah, okay. So do you interview that way when someone raises their hand and they say, we want to be part of this campaign? Do you say, well, tell us your why?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yep. Yes, yes.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, we ask them their why, we ask them to talk about their story, we ask them to talk about their values and what’s really meaningful to them. But also, and the reason why my campaign slogan is more as possible because I also wanna know about your dreams because we can get so rooted in what is that we forget to build towards what can be. And so, so many times in my life I’ve been told, well, that’s just the way it is or we’re probably not gonna change that.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, I just lost her.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Or we’re never going to change that, you know, and the more pessimistic people, right? Like, and I often go back to, and this is of course MLK weekend as we’re, you know, recording this, and so I am really a student of history. And I think so much about the times in history where people have had to fight for things that we take for granted now against all odds, right? In 1852, the progressive minds of the day thought…bringing new states into the US as slave states or free states was a good progressive policy that was advanced thinking, that was a great way to be able to, you know, handle this tension around slavery. And there were people who dared to dream that we could abolish this system. The biggest like industry in America, that we could get rid of it. Somebody thought, and people at that time thought that was wild, it will never happen. I think about, you know, women’s suffrage.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Wait, sorry. Sorry, you cut out through that story. Can you go back to they thought that was a good system and then keep going?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay, I’ll go back. Yeah, so in 1852, people thought it was a really good idea to have each new state that was entering into the US be a slave state and then a free state and balance those two. That was the good progressive policy of the day. But there were some dreamers who said, we could abolish this system. We could get rid of the biggest industry in America altogether. And there were people at the time who said that will never happen, it’s too important. It makes too many people too much money and it happened.

And then, you can fast forward to the early 20th century and women’s right to vote. Oh, that will never happen. Why would we do that? This is the way things have always been, right? Men have been the people who vote. You get that through your husbands and women’s suffrage occurred. And then we can fast forward to, and part of the reason I’m thinking about this is it’s MLK weekend as we’re recording this you know, the civil rights movement. People said, well, you know, in 1897, Plessy B. Ferguson said, separate but equal is the way to go, right? And someone dared to dream of an integrated society, right? And to be able to make that happen. And we certainly still have issues with segregation and racism today, but we don’t live in a world with segregated water fountains anymore. And so I think about how huge those odds must have seemed to the people who were up against them.

And I draw inspiration to think about the challenges we’re facing that seem so big and seem as if we’ll never do something. And I remind ourselves in history that other people were in the exact same position. And everyone was telling them, it’ll never work. That’s not how things are done. You are wild to believe that you could do something different. And so I’m really interested in connecting myself with other people who are dreamers, who can see a vision that they have not yet lived in and are willing to work towards.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm, that’s beautiful. I wanna tell another story about you. I have all these great memories of you. So, we were both in a leadership program that was all about diversifying the leadership of Sacramento. And originally it was an all black program and then they diversified their attendance because they felt like they couldn’t talk about diversity without some level of diversity, which was.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Hahaha!

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Still is maybe a little bit controversially internally to that organization. Anyway, I ended up doing this program, right? And I was so naive and ignorant about racial issues when I did this program. I mean, I arguably still am to some extent. And there were things that would happen, right? Like the black women in my program all…became very close friends and I felt left out and I was upset about it. And we would have these conversations within this forum in which I would say, well, you guys are leaving us out. You’re being exclusive, right? And then I got hit with a bunch of truth, which was, excuse me, we’re having an experience that’s different from your experience and us bonding over that experience is not exclusionary to you and we’re not gonna apologize for being friends. And it kind of opened up this whole, whoa, I actually need to learn a lot more than I currently know. And when I said that, the response was, so then I would ask questions. And someone in the class said, we are not responsible for educating you. You are responsible for educating yourself about these issues. Also totally true, right? So I went to work. I downloaded all these podcasts. I bought all these books. I started reading, but I was afraid to ask, I had follow-up questions, right? And I was…

Dr. Flo Cofer: Hahaha

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Learning about white fragility and I was reading about, I mean, all sorts of random things I never thought was even something I didn’t know about, like black hair, what is that all about, right? I mean, all these topics. And I was afraid to ask anyone a question because I had been told it’s not our job to educate you. And you created an opening and I said, hey, it wouldn’t be possible for me to take you out to dinner and just ask you a bunch of questions about what it’s like to be a black woman in America today. You’re like, absolutely. You’re like so excited. I was terrified. And I remember going to dinner, we went to Iron Horse Tavern. Do you remember that? And I was just like, I mean, now I’m probably embarrassed to think of the questions that I asked you at the time, but it was such an experience that you were willing, you.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Ha ha!

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm. Yep. Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: You know, what was in it for you? Nothing. You’re just this natural born educator. And it’s another moment that sticks in my head of just how you wanna make the world a better place. However, you can do that. You’re willing to show up. And I love that about you. But there, I will.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, I mean, for me, that was a great experience. I’m the daughter of two public school teachers. So I think it is endearing to me when people want to learn. And I completely agree with the Black women who were in your class who were like, it’s your job to educate yourself. And it’s not my, like, because there isn’t a responsibility, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some of us who actually enjoyed that experience, right? It’s like teaching, you know? And so for those of us…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Right.

Dr. Flo Cofer: It is okay, you know, and it’s just the, not the presumption that somebody owes you the education, but more so, and I really also appreciated the way that you came to me and said, you know, I’m a little nervous, is this okay, right, for us to have this conversation? And I was like, absolutely, I’d love to have this conversation.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. So to what extent are you educating then in your role now as a mayoral candidate? I mean, it’s a lot of educating, right? I mean, the public here’s actually let me share with you some research and maybe you can respond to this. So we do research every quarter on the state of culture in business. And for the first time ever.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: This last quarter, one of the questions we ask is, what’s the best thing about your culture? What’s the worst thing about your culture? And we typically look at it through an industry lens to see what’s trending in the automotive industry versus finance versus nonprofit, whatever. And for the first time, when we looked at all the data in the best thing about culture, one of the top three was diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. And one of the worst thing about cultures in the top three across industry was woke ideology.

So what you were seeing for the first time in 30 years of doing this research is that people are saying, we really like the investment in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and the fact that this is part of our culture and other people saying that woke up ideology is the worst thing about working here. So there’s political polarization internal to companies. People are fighting at work because of politics now. And as we go into this election year, it’s like workplace cultures are gonna be just there’s gonna be a barrage of media content, right? As we look at the election footage, I mean, the media coverage is nonstop of that. And so much of it is misinformation depending on where you’re getting information from. So for you, how do you educate when you’re just getting hit by all of this information and misinformation?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, I think one of the ways is to be, we have this beautiful platform that is social media with all of its pros and cons, right? And so being able to directly speak to people allows you to be able to turn, previously everything had to be filtered through somebody else. And so you had to hear what other people thought about your ideas, but you also have a direct channel to people where they can go to your page and hear your words from your mouth and see your face as you’re doing it. And I think that allows people to be able to kind of demystify some of our leadership and actually hear directly from them. And then of course, we also have our traditional media channels. And I love when they, you know, do a side by side comparison of candidates and ask us all the same questions.

There are tons of mayoral forums that are coming up that are being streamed, that are gonna be on television, that are gonna be an opportunity to really do a head-to-head comparison of how do each of these candidates answer these questions? And so I think part of the education is where do we stand? What’s the myth versus the truth? And I think you have a lot more opportunity to do that at the local level because there’s so much less coverage of what’s happening at the local level, but it’s so connected to you. So you are far more likely if you live in Sacramento to be in the same physical space with me or to know someone who does. You are probably one degree of separation away from me as your future mayor in Sacramento than you are to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris or even your state assembly member or state senator, right? Or your US congressional members, right? You’re so much closer to us. And there’s so many fewer cameras on us that…you can hear directly from us. I mean, someone reached out to me via email and I was in their living room the next afternoon having tea with this woman and her husband in East Sacramento because she read the Inside Sacramento article and sent an email. That’s not happening. Joe Biden’s not coming to your house to have tea with you because you emailed him, right? So I think that’s where the demystification and the education can happen. It’s the conversations we’re able to have at the local level. And then it’s also, you know, one of the things that attracted me to the role

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah

Dr. Flo Cofer: When the mayor speaks, people show up to listen. People are following along. The media is covering and providing. So you have an opportunity to narrate and to frame the issues that we have. And I wanna frame them through a public health lens. I wanna frame them through the lens of more being possible and how the challenges we’re seeing here, we shouldn’t just treat the symptoms, but we should treat the underlying root causes of them. And so…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: I think we have been doing the equivalent of running a 26, you know, point two mile marathon and then taking some, some baby wipes and wiping off our face and going, yeah, I’m clean. And it’s like, you need a shower, right? Like let’s get to the root cause of your filth, which it needs a shower. And we have not been doing the shower. We have been like doing the quick wipe off so we can take a couple of cute pictures, but you still stink and you need a bath. And so that’s what I’m proposing is get to the root cause and shower, right?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmph.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So what are those super critical public health issues that you think need to be addressed first and foremost?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Well, I think starting with how we make decisions, right? So we’ve talked about people power. There are two things that I really want to do in the first like 100 to 150 days of being in office. And one of those is to set some priorities. The city of Sacramento doesn’t have any. And so without priorities, it’s hard then to budget and to be able to set goals and be able to say, were we successful on something or not? So as much conversation as we’ve had about homelessness, it’s not an official city priority. And we do not have goals and metrics to be able to say here’s what we’re aiming to do and here’s how we’ll know if we’ve been successful. And so that’s how everybody can say, well, look at all we’ve done or we haven’t done enough because everybody is gonna evaluate that differently because we weren’t clear about what we set out to do. And so that needs to change because then it offers an opportunity for everybody, our, the people who live in Sacramento, our business community to get involved, which is exactly brings me to my second goal, which is to change how we make decisions. Right now.

You get five days to know what’s gonna be on the city council agenda. It’s usually the agenda is posted on Thursday, they have their meetings on Tuesday, and two of those days are a weekend day. So it’s not enough time to reach out to your city council members. It’s not enough time to talk to your neighborhood associations or your union members or your neighbors and friends. It’s just not enough time. And we have a process at the state level that allows for more time and more input and that…is where you introduce legislation during a period of time, and then it goes off to be reviewed. And so at the local level, what I’d like to do is see the mayor and the council members and our department chairs for the city be able to introduce legislation, and they’ll go on our city’s website by topic. So if you’re really interested in climate change, you can go on the city’s website and see all the climate change proposals, and you can talk to your neighbors and friends about them, and we can come on podcasts like this one and talk about the issues and take questions.

And then they can go to our boards, committees, and commissions. We have an ethics commission if there’s something ethical that we need to consider about one of our policies. We have a youth commission. We have a measure you commission if we’re thinking about where the money is going to come. We have a police review commission if this is a public safety proposal. We have already people who have volunteered their time to be the city’s advisors. And that’s a great first opportunity for neighbors to talk to neighbors.

Dr. Flo Cofer: And talk about these proposals and for people to say, I’d like to support this, we oppose it, here’s an amendment, here’s how I can help. And then that all, that conversation and the result of that conversation can be included in the staff report when it eventually does come to the mayor and the council for a vote. And so we get the benefit of people having conversations, people having time, people saying how they can help. Because Sacramento is the place where 30,000 people show up every Thanksgiving morning to be able to support the food bank.

This is not a town full of people who don’t want to help and are not willing to roll up their sleeves and help out. That’s the largest Turkey trot in the country, right? So it says something about who we are as people that we’re the ones who, when it’s 115 degrees outside, people are ordering water on Amazon to be able to give to the people who are experiencing homelessness in their neighborhood or when it’s cold outside, they’re bringing blankets and food. And this is a place where we wanna help. And if we can set some goals together and find out what’s happening, people will get involved and we will be so much more successful together when we have goals and metrics and a way for people to more meaningfully participate.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So in your previous advocacy work, what really works in mobilizing communities to change?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Not seeing them as the enemy, but seeing them as a part of the progress, right? So, you know, I hear so often, well, people said no, or people are nimbies, right? And I’m all, my follow-up question is why? You need to ask those five whys. You’re opposed to this project coming to your community. It may come anyway, but I’m curious to know why you’re opposed, because that’s actually more important to me than your actual disposition. What are your concerns? Are you concerned about safety?

Are you concerned about the number of cars that are now gonna be coming to your community and whether or not they’re gonna be driving quickly and endangering your kids? Are you concerned about your property values because the house you bought is your retirement plan and if it goes down, you won’t be able to do that? What are you concerned about? Because I may not agree with you that we shouldn’t do the project, but your concerns are valid and real and I want to address those. So let’s talk about them and let’s figure that out and let’s meaningfully come up with a plan that we can evaluate to be able to say,

We’re gonna put some speed bumps in so that the, you know, the speed limit on this street is slower. We’re going to make sure that there’s adequate parking or that there’s an additional bus that comes by so that we won’t have so much congestion. We’re gonna do the things to be able to address those needs and you’re gonna keep in touch with us and let us know if it’s working and what we need to tweak. There is the opportunity. When we don’t do that, we miss out on the opportunity to be able to move things forward with people’s trust. They may be skeptical at first, but no, is an opening offer.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: It’s a place to begin the conversation, not to end it. And I don’t think we’ve applied enough curiosity. And I think most of the things that our city is facing to fully answer your last question are public health issues. When it comes to housing and homelessness, when it comes to our need to build the economy so people have living wage jobs, when it comes to climate change, when it comes to public safety. Public safety is public health. All of these are public health issues, but we can’t start with…how do we respond to emergencies? We should start with how many of these should never have been emergencies in the first place? Because none of us woke up this morning hoping to call 911, right? Like that’s not a good day when we have to call 911. It means we had a safety emergency or a health emergency, but either way, something bad happened that we hope wouldn’t have happened. And so let’s start with how many of these emergencies could have been prevented. And then the second question we should be asking is, are we responding appropriately?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So I have a feeling that I have a strong opinion about something that you’re gonna disagree with me on. And I’m interested in having the conversation because I would love to be convinced otherwise. But one of the questions that I get a lot when talking to CEOs in the last couple quarters is about the…

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay.

Let’s do it.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: How they should respond to political issues, right? So, and I’m talking at a national scale. So let, you know, I know you’re a mayoral candidate at a local level, but there’s business at the local level, but let’s just call it a different scale of the same issue. So the war happens, you know, Ukraine-Russia war happens, or some policy, the affirmative action ruling, right? Or…

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Something happens in the media that is a political issue and then CEOs are asked to weigh in. What is your response? What do you think? And when CEOs ask me what they should do, I say, I think as a person who is here to run a business and not an elected official, I think the most valuable thing you can do is not to offer an opinion, but to offer empathy for the experience that your employees or the community is having. To have CEOs push forward their opinion, their political opinion about controversial issues that there is always a left and a right for, puts their employees in an awkward situation because now they have to pretend like they agree or they feel like they don’t belong. And it creates internal strife that is not, it’s counterproductive for culture, it’s counterproductive for driving productivity and results. The counter argument is, but then what are you doing about it, right? And so what is the role of business in these political issues, these community issues, how do you see the interplay of these two different worlds?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, I mean, so I always say to our business community that you do have a role to play in politics. And also, that role can sometimes, I’ve been using kind of the choir analogy and that role can sometimes be you overseeing a bit because you also have this power and influence that other community members don’t have. And so I would actually agree with you that I think offering empathy for the experiences that people are having is a great place to start. I think another one is to not speak on things that you’re not well-educated on. And there’s a saying that we’ve used for the Youth Commission and the youth work in the city of Sacramento, which is nothing about us without us. And so in the same way that you and I would balk if there was a panel full of men who were having a conversation about women’s health issues, right?

I don’t need to necessarily hear a CEO who is not a part of a community and has no background with something opining on and coming up with potential solutions for an issue that they don’t experience and don’t have a relevant background in. And so it’s not so much about them getting in trouble or not, it’s really about…recognizing what your role can be. And so the example I will give is in the city of Sacramento, last, was it last, maybe the year before last, there was a measure that was placed locally on the ballot to be able to address homelessness. And it was developed by the business community. And I said repeatedly, like I was opposed to it, I’ll just be honest, it was measure O. And part of the reason I was opposed to it is because not a single unhoused person was consulted in the making of it. They didn’t consult any advocates. They decided in a way, and I was like, this is unacceptable in any other way. If you were coming up with a women’s health initiative, you would make sure there were some women involved. If you were talking about black business, you would find some black business folks to be involved. But you thought it was totally acceptable to write a homelessness policy and not involve anybody who is experiencing homelessness, who works in homelessness, who knows something about homelessness other than.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Thank you.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Being a business owner and being frustrated by what they’re seeing. And that to me is a mistake. And I think that’s the mistake that so many of our business leaders make is not knowing when their voice is not necessarily the one that needs to be the loudest in a conversation or driving a conversation. And recognizing you can have an opinion and you can be a part of something, but your job here as a leader might not be to be in the lead role.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Interesting. Yeah, I mean, that’s a great, I’m gonna steal that phrase. Don’t speak on something that you’re not well educated on because CEOs that I talked to were like, I gotta put out a comment on what just happened. It’s like, do you, do you really? Then there’s this counterargument. I’m actually surprised you agree with me. The counterargument is silence is commentary in and of itself, right?

And so then what do you say about that? Like what about the danger of staying silent on things that your employees are passionate about? I remember consulting with it. This was actually a local company who in 2020 didn’t say anything about George Floyd. They didn’t release an email internally. They didn’t address it in a town hall. And when we did a culture assessment with them, I heard from so many employees, I can’t believe that they’re silent on this issue, right? So the lack of commentary,

And these people were not well educated on the issue. I mean, they certainly were not, right? So there’s a double edged sword there about not speaking on, or I guess the argument is go get educated, right?

Dr. Flo Cofer: I mean, so the one argument is go get educated. But the other argument is, silence is not the only alternative to that, right? It may mean that you’re not the one who’s speaking on it because it’s not appropriate for you, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t create spaces for your employees to be able to respond. It doesn’t mean that you can’t bring in experts to be able to speak on things, right? It just means you don’t have to feel that you have to have the opinion on everything that’s happening. So…

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: You’re absolutely right that it can seem as if like, so then I should be silent on it, but instead it’s thinking about what’s the best course of action? If your employees are really concerned about something, creating an opportunity for that conversation to happen, allowing some of them to step in and be the lead voice on this instead of it having to be yours. I think there’s sometimes the conflation of the CEO with the organization. And actually if you’re a people-focused leader, you recognize you have other people.

Your bench is there, right? You’re sitting there, you know, as Phil Jackson, you got Jordan on the bench, put Jordan in for this one. Jordan should always take your game winning shot. You know what I mean? And so it doesn’t have to be you who always does the speaking on every issue. You can defer to the people who are in a much better position to be able to lead those conversations and do have the expertise.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m going to go ahead and close the video.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: OK, so let’s recap because I’m loving this. There were four options there. Speak on it. Don’t speak on it. Listen on it and get someone else to speak on it, essentially. Right. Oh, that’s brilliant. Oh, that’s content. I’m going to write a newsletter about that. That’s great. Oh, she’s frozen.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yep. Yes. Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hold on, we’ll wait till you get back. Are you back? Yeah, you freeze every once in a while and then I pretend like I can hear you.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes, I am back. I don’t know what’s… I know. I’m not sure what’s going on because I am hardwired into the internet. So, and I’m on a Google, yeah, I’m on a Google like line, so I’m sorry.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Noah says it’s no big deal. Yeah. Okay, yeah, no, no worries. Okay, so we actually have a caller who has a question for you, so I won’t keep you all to myself, and let’s see what kind of question we have.

Noah Scott: And just, I’ll give some context on this one. It’s a long question, so just be prepared for that. We may or may not edit. We may or may not edit some of the things in there, but he’s got a lot of background.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay, I’ll take some notes.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay, so the first question was about the vacancy tax. I missed the beginning of the second part. It froze a little bit.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: About UBI.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Oh, UBI, okay, yep. Okay, so yes, I actually am in favor of a vacancy tax. I think it’s a great way to be able to incentivize making some of the existing infrastructure that we have in terms of housing available on the market at a lower rate. I’m also in favor of some other things. I’ve signed on to Sacramento Forward, which is a few policies together because what we understand is that the housing crisis is caused by at least 13 distinct drivers. And if we only do one thing at a time, we often can make some of the other challenges worse. And so we need to address multiple things that are contributing to it at the same time. And that’s why it’s helpful to be able to have multiple policies that you’re moving towards. And so Sacramento Forward is looking at that and really trying to make sure that the people who are currently housed, we are able to maintain their housing because right now in Sacramento for every one person we get rehoused who’s been experiencing homelessness, three more people are losing their housing.

And so as we approach the point in time count coming up on January 24th and 25th, I’m worried that despite all of the energy and effort that we’ve been putting into homelessness, we’re actually gonna see an increase in the numbers because of that stat of how many people we are able to rehouse versus how many people are newly becoming homeless, in part because they can’t afford you know, rental rates going up at 9.3% every single year when their incomes aren’t going up at that rate. So I am in favor of finding ways to be able to immediately get more people into housing and recognizing that that’s still not affordability, right? That’s lowering the price so that people don’t pay this vacancy tax and instead they make it available, you know, at a rate that maybe more people can afford.

And that’s part of the challenge of the missing middle, which is that you know, affordability kind of exists in this binary. You’re very low income and low income. And so you can, you qualify for official affordability or you are left to the market. And the market unfortunately has decided that 10,000 people will sleep on our streets when, you know, we had 2,500 people experiencing homelessness 10 years ago and over 70% were sheltered. And now we have 10,000 and 72% are unsheltered. So that’s what the market decided. And so we need more ways to be able to lower that cost.

Dr. Flo Cofer: For the people who are above the threshold for affordable housing officially, but still shouldn’t be paying 60, 70, and 80% of their income towards their housing. Because then if they get in a car accident and have to make a payment, or if they have a medical emergency, or somebody loses a job, now they really can’t afford to be able to maintain their housing because they don’t have saving stores, and because they were operating with such thin margins. So that’s another piece of this in addition to the vacancy tax, but I am in support of that.

And then Universal Basic Income, again, the pilot that was done in Stockton, shows some really promising results. Similarly, the pilots that have been done internationally have shown good results that when we offer people things like food assistance, they are able to buy food. But when we offer people cash, they’re able to purchase things that sometimes were not on our radar collectively as leadership to be necessary, but can help people to be able to get better paying jobs.

The cash allows people to be able to fix up the car they need so that they can commute for their job or to be able to, when we’ve seen internationally, thatch their roof so that they can have an in-home business. Doing things that may have been outside of what we imagined somebody who had lower income needed, but actually allow them to be able to make a purchase that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make that allows them to be able to generate more income. And so I think it’s really important that we’re not patronizing to people who are low income and saying, I’m only gonna give you this money for food, or I’m only gonna give it for this. People have needs that go beyond that. And I think what we’ve seen from these pilots is that when we trust them with cash, they purchase things we wouldn’t have thought of, but that also ultimately yields dividends for all of us.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, okay, you’re back. I didn’t hear the end of that, but I have a follow-up question anyway. Sorry Noah, you’re just gonna have to cut and edit so much of this. No, it’s okay.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Sorry. I can’t figure out if it’s something about my browser. I’m on Google Chrome. Is that not the right browser?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I think it’s fine. Yeah, they’ll just have to work harder. It’s no big deal. Okay, so here’s the, and I am uneducated on this, so take my question with a grain of salt, but here’s the counter-argument. Poverty is traumatic, trauma leads to addiction, and funding addiction is not gonna work. I mean…

Noah Scott: It’s fine, who knows what it is.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Okay, because I really am, I’m hard wired in. I don’t know why it’s being weird.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m in recovery, I know what people who are in addiction do with money, it’s not great, you know? So what about that cycle that ultimately isn’t gonna help people get over the trauma response to poverty, which looks like drug and alcohol addiction?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: I mean, you’re right. Like, you know, a one size fits all model is gonna have some places where it doesn’t fit, right? And so I remind people all the time though, that the majority of people with mental health issues and substance use issues are securely housed. So we should not pretend that this issue is more prevalent among people who are lower income because, or who are experiencing homelessness because that’s not true. As we have seen, these challenges are facing

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm

Dr. Flo Cofer: All of our communities. They happen to have often more devastating effects. I mean, you don’t have a fallback plan or other, you’re already at high risk in society because you don’t have a cushion to be able to fall on, but it’s not unique to people who are experiencing poverty. And part of what we also understand is that economic stress is part of the stress that causes people to, we saw a big uptick in people drinking during the pandemic because they were worried about whether they were gonna live or die in the face of, of this novel virus.

So recognizing that economic stress is part of, was one of the stressors that can increase your risk of beginning to misuse substances is important. And I think, so it’s one of those like, what’s the cause and effect here? And I think we miss out on, right. And we miss out on the opportunity to help a lot of people when we’re worried about, well,

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, chicken and egg.

Dr. Flo Cofer: What about some of the people who might misuse it? There will always be people who, you know, who maybe are not the standard story of something, but it doesn’t mean we don’t take advantage of the opportunity to help so many more people because we’re worried about that. Instead, we can operate on a case-by-case basis. We can find ways to be able to say, how can we, you know, protect you? While also supporting you.

And maybe there are some people who don’t get a cash infusion. Maybe there’s somebody else in their life who can have that cash for them and help them to protect it, and they can designate someone to do that. There are all kinds of options, but I wouldn’t wanna throw away a good idea because we’re worried about the minority of people who might misuse it.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So I was just before this call looking at the demographics of who’s following us and number one is CEOs, number two is founders of companies. So you have a platform here to speak to business leaders across the world. What do you want them to know? What can you give them in terms of counsel, advice, or something for them to think about that you think will make the world a better place?

Dr. Flo Cofer: Mm-hmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yeah, I think it’s helpful to recognize that, you know, the Supreme Court has said that, you know, businesses are people, but businesses are made up of people, but businesses are not people. And so when we’re having conversations in our communities, I think we need to really be mindful of all of the people that are working for you, and to remember that you are an institution.

And so when we start talking about institutional issues, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in my work being part of an executive team is that it is hypocritical and often ill-advised to want someone else to do what we’ve been unwilling to do ourselves. So if we’re concerned about pay equity, the first place we should start looking is within our own organizations. If we’re concerned about racial equity, we need to be looking within our own organizations. If we’re concerned about justice, what are we doing within our organizations to be able to address these issues. And so I think recognizing that you are an institution, that you do have power, and I think doing the constant updating of your sense of self to recognize also what your position within that organization means in terms of the power dynamic, and how do you prepare the next generation of leaders?

How do you also…do the thing when you were the young, scrappy person, starting your organization, and maybe some of you still are that young, scrappy person, but that you were hoping, don’t lose the dream of what you were hoping to do when you got there, because along the way you had to learn some lessons or you had to do some things, remember that. And I know it’s something that I’m asking myself all the time is reminding myself that like, when I was younger and idealistic, there were all of these things that I was hoping to be able to do and to change in leadership. And along the way, we need to also be doing some of the changing, not saying, okay, well, when we get there, you’re there now. You are the leaders of these organizations. And so you’re also helping to set the culture of what’s accepted, of what’s expected, and how we’re going to do things. And so if you find yourself…

Dr. Flo Cofer: Repeating things that you hated hearing when you were in a different position, consider what you want that message to be to the people there and how you want to bring them along as the leader, because the leader doesn’t have to rule with an iron fist, you can also rule with an open arm.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm, yeah, that’s beautiful for us. It’s our culture. I mean, we do. We are our biggest consumer of our own content and intellectual property because we cannot help improve culture. If our culture is broken. So we do the work from the inside out. Well, it’s time for our last question. This is my favorite question. And it is what is something that you don’t get asked out on the campaign trail or in these kinds of interviews that you wish you were asked more often?

Dr. Flo Cofer: You know, when you sent me that question, I thought to myself, gosh, you know, people ask me a lot of really good questions. What is something that I wish people asked me? And I think the question is, what are you afraid of?

Um, what, oh, I said, you know, people asked me a lot of really good questions on the campaign trail. And so I was really struggling with this one. But I think the question that I have not been asked is what are you afraid of?

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I didn’t hear any of that. Can you start over? Ha ha.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm. What are you afraid of?

Dr. Flo Cofer: I think this question has changed over time because one of the things I wanna say is I do have fears. And I think sometimes when people present as confident, it seems as if they don’t have fears and don’t have doubts and all of those things. But I do have fears. And I think one of my biggest fears right now to name it is there are a lot of people who are really excited about this moment and have been really excited to get involved in this campaign. And I think, you know, if I’m honest with myself, aside from never wanting to, you know, never seeing this on any of my bingo cards in terms of me running for office, and that’s why I said no for so long, I think when I started to entertain it, the thing I was afraid of is getting people’s hopes up and people being disappointed. And so I know we can win this election.

I also know that we’re the underdog and that this is hard and that it requires a lot of you know, a lot of work and getting to a lot of people in a short period of time and cutting through the noise of their everyday lives to get them to do a thing at a time when you know, not a lot of people are paying attention, you know, and so I that is a fear that sticks out. It’s like, what if you know, what if we what if we’re not successful?

And then I am also reminded of the opposite of that. So I named it to a friend and they said, but what if you do, right? And so I think that’s the beautiful part of our fears are that everything we want is on the other side of hard work and everything we want is on the other side of being afraid of what might happen. But we certainly don’t get there if we don’t try. And so the lesson I’ve learned is to really honor my fear.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.

Dr. Flo Cofer: As a valid human emotion that we’re all experiencing that connects me to people instead of separating me from people. And that it is real, but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Wrap that little clip up and put it on social media. I mean, that is so inspiring and not to feed your fear, but here is one person who did get their hopes up. I have one last story before we wrap up. And I took my daughter to an art camp last week during winter break, and she sat next to this cute little girl. Her name was like Elena, or it wasn’t Elena, it was like Elena or something like that. And she was the six-year-old little girl.

And we sat down, I met her for probably five minutes and she just goes, I met Mayor Flo, to my daughter and me. And I said, really? I know Mayor Flo. I didn’t wanna correct her. She’s not mayor yet, but you know, I just said, I know Mayor Flo.

Dr. Flo Cofer: So guys, I think I know exactly who that is. It’s one of my friend’s daughter. And she, I am convinced that she’s gonna run the world one day, but it was so funny when they put my lawn sign up in front of their house, Elena came in the house and she said, why does Auntie Flo get to have her name on a sign in the yard and I don’t? And I was like.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m gonna go.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: You wait your turn, you’re six years old, you can run the world later. For now you’re supposed to play. Ah, that’s so sweet.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Oh my gosh, that is so funny. Yes, she is the sweetest and she is just so like, the kids are gonna be okay. Like, you know, every generation gets the benefit from the previous generation, what we’ve learned and what we’ve experienced and what we’ve built. And I am just so excited about what these next, you know, two generations are gonna do. They’re taking us by storm and I love it.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, me too. My six year old just blows me away every single day. I said, just teach me how to live because you have figured something out that I am still trying to learn. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining me. This is so fun to reconnect and hear about your journey and learn from you. And we will look forward to seeing what’s next for Mayor Flow.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yep, yep, absolutely.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes, it was.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes, yes, yes. Excited, 25 days until ballots drop.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Goodness, that is I mean, there’s a lot of fear in that, I bet. But it.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Yes. And if you would like to join us, you can go to flowformayor.com and you can find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved because this really is a people-powered campaign. So we take, we say yes to all offers of support. So in whatever fashion and form they come in.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Dr. Flo Cofer: Thank you.

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