Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
Kimbley Craig’s interests are diverse: businesswoman, roller derby team member and the youngest member of the Salinas City Council, but the La Verne alumna brings the same potent energy and recipe for success to each one.
When Kimbley Craig was sworn in as a Salinas city councilmember, she invited her teammates from the Monterey Bay Derby Dames to the ceremony. Several of her roller derby friends showed up; a few even wore their skates.
The invitation was the natural culmination to an unprecedented campaign. Craig, a La Verne graduate and first-time politician, skated to victory, easily defeating the incumbent. The small business owner is the youngest female Salinas councilperson in recent history.
“I had a lot of eyes on me and my campaign to see if I was going to be successful,” Craig said. “I didn’t know if a 35-year-old female could win against an incumbent. It was unusual.”
To put it mildly, Craig is not your stereotypical politician. A graduate of the police academy, Craig was on the path to a career in law enforcement when she entered and won a Monica Lewinsky lookalike contest. That opened doors to a career in communications, and she now owns a media company.
Those who know Craig say she is a keen listener who is never shy about speaking the truth. She is driven, intelligent and personable. While roller derby, the sport she loves, is not as common as tennis or softball, it demands practice, resilience and a level of fearlessness that has served her well.
“She’s very goal-driven. She’s not a quitter,” said April Diaz, Craig’s friend and president of the Monterey Bay Derby Dames, a flat-track roller derby league serving Monterey County. “She doesn’t accept losing as an option. To have activities and interests such as roller derby, it brings something different and it helps reach out to an entirely different demographic that may not be interested in city politics.”
For Craig, being elected to a council seat was a natural progression.
“I just felt like that was my calling,” she said. “My entire adult life has been devoted to public service.”
She plans on putting her variety of experiences to good use as she tackles two of the city’s biggest challenges: economic development and public safety.
“Apathy is no longer an option,” Craig said. “We have a huge constituency of professional young business owners and it’s an opportunity to have a voice. If you want to make a difference, you have to be involved. Part of that was breathing new life into our city.”
Craig grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, where she graduated from Carmel High School. She then went on to Monterey Peninsula College before receiving her Bachelor of Science in Criminology from the University of La Verne. She also graduated from Monterey Peninsula College’s police academy, earning certification to become a police officer in the state of California. She was the only woman in the top 10 of her class.
“I actually found the University of La Verne on a computer printout of colleges,” she said. Craig wanted to attend a small school with lots of grass and greenery that was near a big city. She also wanted a university with a criminology program. She liked the fact that La Verne had an internship program for seniors.
Craig got accepted to UCLA and UC Davis as well as some of the state schools, but decided that La Verne would be a better fit.
“I felt like I wasn’t going to be a number at La Verne,” she said. “They called and personally invited me down to the school. They were great about personalizing it.”
Craig did an internship at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where she worked with a detective who was well known in the industry for his investigation in the Night Stalker case. She was gaining experience for a career in law enforcement. But the Lewinsky lookalike contest changed all that.
Sharon Davis, Professor of Sociology at La Verne and Craig’s advisor, was surprised Craig had entered the contest and had won “that dubious distinction.”
The prize for the contest was a one-week internship at KIIS-FM, a Top 40 radio station in Los Angeles.
“It opened some doors to the media,” Davis said. “In retrospect, it was one of several turning points in her life.”
The radio station asked Craig to stay on and be an intern on the morning show with Rick Dees.
“When it came time to graduate, the radio station offered me a job,” she said. “I had the opportunity to take a left or a right turn and I opted into the media portion.”
Davis recalled Craig as a bright young woman and said she will do an excellent job as a councilwoman.
“I think she got a lot of foundation here at the University of La Verne, how to plan and coordinate, how to approach problem-solving,” Davis said. “I think she is going to be an inclusive leader. I think she is going to build coalitions. I truly believe that we helped to lay that foundation and then she ran with it, and look at the tremendous success she is having right now.”
Don Chapin, a Salinas business owner who was among a group of residents who encouraged Craig to run for the council seat, said he is impressed by Craig.
“I saw somebody who was young and energetic and who wanted to make her community a better place,” Chapin said. “And I also saw her willingness to put out the effort to do that.”
Craig, who was sworn in on Dec. 14, will be undertaking a task that will require about 30 hours a week.
“I’m realizing there is definitely going to be a balancing act,” she said. “It’s important for me to still have a social life.”
The campaign and work demands required that she take a leave of absence from roller derby. Her friends walked precincts with her and sometimes attended campaign fundraisers in roller skates.
“We’re all there to support each other,” Craig said of her teammates. Craig recently started practicing again.
“She was attacking everything and doing all the drills they were asking her to do,” Diaz said. “Even if she was nervous or concerned about being off skates, it didn’t show.”
“She definitely embraces it,” Diaz said. “She’ll help us a lot in the league, letting people see we’re not just a bunch of tattooed thugs who want to fight and brawl. We are city council members, lawyers,” and other professionals, “not what you used to see on 1980s television.”
Craig’s interest in the sport is simple: she said she absolutely hates exercising but for whatever reason took a liking to roller skating. She attended a couple of Santa Cruz Derby Girls games and decided to audition. “I hadn’t been on skates in 23 years and I ended up not making the team. I was hugging the side of the ring and clinging on for dear life.”
After nine months of private lessons, Craig and some friends kicked around the idea of putting together a new team closer to home. She and several others got it off the ground, investing financially in it to get it going. Three nights a week, she traveled to Monterey for two-hour practices that left her dripping in sweat.
“There are women on my team who are real estate agents, teachers, mothers of three, grandmothers, baristas from Starbucks, firefighters, nurses — it’s just a huge range of lifestyles and backgrounds of women who all play on a team together,” she said.
“I just found, in a woman’s quest to constantly be in shape, to try to be healthy, it was a sport that I really ended up liking. It was hard work. After two hours of roller skating, you are dripping wet with sweat. It’s exhilarating and fun and frustrating.”
Craig, whose goes by the name “Mis Manners 101,” said she often gets asked if the games are fixed. They are not. Roller derby is a competitive sport with no planned-out winner. “You do get hurt,” she said. “Women have broken legs, broken arms, wrists. A girlfriend knocked out her front teeth. That’s part of the sport. You get ridiculous bruises. Wearing a dress, you always have to do a body check to see if you have a big yellow bruise.”
When you get knocked down, you get back up. That is exactly what Craig has done in her professional life. One Monday morning, Craig went into work at the company where she was media director to find out it was shutting its doors.
“I went home and cried for two days and then went after two of the accounts and landed them,” she said. Her media agency, K. Craig Media, generated more than a quarter-million dollars in business in the first year.
Chapin said Craig presents herself well and studies the issues. “She’s very personable and easy to talk to and I think she’s kind of a breath of fresh air. She’s not the stereotype,” he said. “If you look at the stereotypical politician, you do not see Kimbley Craig.”
“It’s a change, a change for the better,” Chapin added.