By Tairiq Marshall | Special to the OBSERVER
Outside of her office, Porsche Middleton is a wife, mother of two boys and a zealous golfer, though even she’ll concede that she’s typically not the best player on the course.
“I’m an avid golfer, though not very great at it,” Middleton said playfully. “It’s one of those activities I can get outdoors and really challenge myself to try to do a little bit better than I did.”
Her playful nature also comes with resolve and courage, attributes Middleton relied on to become the first African American woman Mayor of Citrus Heights, and the first ever Black female mayor in the Sacramento region.
Middleton stepped over every impediment and each doubter with perseverance, grit and fight.
Those attributes were put to the test early and often, starting in 2018 when she was running for a seat on the Citrus Heights City Council. The City of Citrus Heights is about 15 miles northeast of Sacramento and has about 88,000 residents.
Middleton recounted having to sue the city in order to use “planning commissioner” as a ballot designation during the election, asserting that the city seemed initially unreceptive to her potential candidacy.
“I believe that was solely because people didn’t want me there,” Middleton said. “I was new, I wasn’t born in Citrus Heights so people felt like I didn’t have any ties there but I do. So I had to sue the city and I won.”
Despite the challenges Middleton faced, the City of Citrus Heights has the unique distinction as being the only city in the region to have had multiple African American mayors. James Shelby, who was part of the inaugural city council when Citrus Heights first became a city in 1997, was the first African American ever to be named mayor of a city in the region in 2000. Elected city council members appoint the councilmember to serve as mayor. Shelby was selected by his peers to serve as mayor a total of three times until 2010. Mel Turner also served a term as mayor in 2014. In 2017, Turner passed away while he was a member of the city council.
While not an elected position, longtime city manager Henry Tingle served the residents of Citrus Heights admirably for 17 years before retiring in 2016. During his tenure, the city never operated in a deficit — even amid the great recession.
Shelby said while the city population is not very diverse — 2020 Census data reports that 83% of Citrus Heights residents are white — voters have “historically elected the best candidates” to represent them on the city council and it is incumbent upon council members to make sure the city operates with diversity as a priority.
“Citrus Heights is unique in that African Americans were at the table unlike some of the other cities around Sacramento,” Shelby said. “And in a smaller city, it is sometimes easier to get into these positions.”
Middleton said her experiences early on created challenges for her when trying to forge relationships, but she ultimately prevailed.
Middleton learned not to get offended by external noise during her ascension through city council.
“It was hard to rebuild relationships after that,” Middleton said. “I had to learn to get really thick skin and really learn not to take things personally.”
The former council member said she encountered individuals who assumed that she was underqualified during the beginning of her tenure.
“Walking into a room, people kind of expect that you’re young, you’re Black, you’re a woman, you’re not qualified, you don’t know enough, or maybe they have to hand hold you a little bit,” Middleton said. “I was actually able to step into the council and hit the ground running.”
Middleton said there were times when her credibility and expertise were questioned as individuals assumed that her words were “more fluff than actual substance.”
Despite the roadblocks, it didn’t take long for Middleton to establish herself as a leader within her community and prove her merit.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Middleton offered assistance to residents and employees afflicted. She was proactive in helping pass Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security relief packages to dwellers in the city.
Accelerated through the Great Plates Delivered Project, Middleton also helped to get more than 100,000 meals delivered to individuals during the shutdown.
One of many challenges she faced early on was bridging the gap between law enforcement and members of the community.
She recognized the overall perception that many individuals have of police officers because of issues of over-policing and use of force and addressed the disconnect.
As a board member of the Police Activities League (PAL), Middleton said she works to ensure the voices of people are heard while also building an overall community trust in law enforcement as well.
“We have to be mindful that residents, constituents, don’t see police officers as being part of one jurisdiction or the other, it’s just police officers,” Middleton said. “You have to combat that negative narrative and also rise above the occasion.”
Through the PAL, Middleton said initiatives are in place to create a much more robust connection between residents and police officers as the city aims to continue “hiring the best officers possible.”
She added that she’s steadfast in reiterating to law enforcement the impact that they can have and reminding them of the people that they serve, especially the youth.
“I’m really actively involved in meeting our new officers and watching them get sworn in,” Middleton said. “I’m reminding them that this is my face here you represent and you protect not only my children, but the children in this community.”
Thirty-nine year old Citrus Heights resident Quincy Moss said he appreciates Middleton’s dedication to improving policing for local youth.
“I have children of my own so it does make me comfortable knowing that there is someone who has the power to make change who has been using it to actually make change,” Moss said. “Sometimes, it feels like people in those positions aren’t interested in our problems so I’ve been all in on her efforts to strengthen ties and make law enforcement a real safe space for us.”
Though she began serving as a member of City Council in 2018, Middleton’s unwavering devotion to community outreach began in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky where she said her family was always “community involved.”
Her experiences and community involvement from working in the mayor’s office there translated into tackling homelessness in Citrus Heights.
As the Deputy Director of Sacramento Help Housing, Middleton was introduced to the city’s Housing Navigator Program, which works to provide individuals suffering from homelessnes with housing, amenities and resources.
Her efforts placed more than 300 people suffering from homelessness into housing.
There’s no disputing that Middleton’s commitment to bettering the lives of her constituents is at the top of her list of priorities.
She said she constantly reminds herself to seize every opportunity she has today like there is no tomorrow.
“It’s never going to be easy and it will take a lot of time, no question,” Middleton said. “But I always make it a point to ask myself ‘If I don’t wake up tomorrow, am I going to be proud of myself today?’”
If you ask Middleton what keeps her driven and inspired to get up every single day, she’ll immediately tell you she “loves to connect with people.”
“I always say, I’m really just a person who wants to do some good while I’m here,” she said.
Lina Hernandez, 54, Citrus Heights resident, emphasized Middleton’s passion and authenticity when discussing her service.
“I had the privilege of meeting her over a year or so back during the pandemic,” Hernandez said. “You could just tell that she was extremely compassionate and caring. It hasn’t surprised me that she’s doing all that she is doing because she’s extremely dedicated to the people here and it shows.”
Middleton’s ultimate aim has been upholding her responsibility to the community.
“I know that a lot of people are depending on me to represent the things that they want to see in their community,” Middleton said. “My children, my neighbors, my friends, are in Citrus Heights. I have a responsibility to get up every day and do the best that I can to make sure that I hold that promise.”
Middleton also said she is willing to sacrifice the time and her own rest if it means that the people she serves feel heard and appreciated.
“I do a lot and run on a little bit of sleep,” Middleton said. “In the long run, it’s worth it because I consider myself to still be young and I want to know that by the time I hit retirement, that I’ve done anything I could possibly do to improve this environment and the community. I want to help uplift the voices that I feel are being marginalized.”