TOPEKA (KSNT)- As the city of Topeka welcomes a new mayor, it’s time to say goodbye to the previous one.
Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla sat down with KSNT News to talk about the past four years with her in office, covering the good and hard moments, as well as what’s ahead in her future.
Since 2018, De La Isla has been in charge of the city of Topeka, serving one term as mayor. In March of 2021, she made the decision to not run for re-election.
“It would not be prudent for me to consider running for mayor, yet again,” De La Isla said in a mayor press conference on Zoom back in March.
A tough decision she had to come to, but ultimately had to make for herself.
“It’s been a combination of all of these traumas happening, over and over, and just seeing a level of division in our city, lack of decorum incivility that hasn’t been seen in a long time,” she told KSNT News at the sit-down interview days before Mayor-Elect Mike Padilla took office. “So my heart needs to rest. My heart needs to reset.”
De La Isla has seen a lot of ups and downs since being in office. When she was elected, one of the things she wanted to change was the way Topekans felt about the city. So many times, you would hear people expressing their dislike for the Capital City, and how much they wanted to get out. One of the ways she enforced pride was with the Topeka flag.
“Now there’s a sense of pride in who we are as a community,” De La Isla said. “I have a vanity plate that’s the flag of our community. We adopted a brand new flag. And I remember I was made fun of so much when I was celebrating our new flag, but the reality is that people have rallied around it. They love their flag.”
She has been the first to do many things in her position. She was the first Latina, female mayor of Topeka and was the only mayor to hold an additional job while in office, coming from a background of homelessness and being a single mother, battling many different medical issues like cancer, Lyme disease and Covid-19.
“I’ve been poor, I’ve been homeless, I’ve had struggles with medical bills, cancer, lupus, you name it, I’ve had it,” De La Isla said.
In 2020, De La Isla ran for congress to represent Kansas’ 2nd District. She lost in the general election to Jake LaTurner.
“That experience, rather than dissuading me from running for office again, just actually made me lean in deeper into my education,” she said. “Because what it showed me is we’re divided. We’re divided as a country. For some reason, we are giving value to morals and values that are not aligned with the narrative of our country.”
Now she’s off to start a new journey, this one taking her back to school. She’s going to Harvard University to get her master’s degree in public administration.
“It feels unreal,” she said. “I still have a hard time understanding the amount of privilege that that has and the fact that I get to go.”
Despite taking on this new challenge, she has plans to return back to Topeka. The same city she’s proud to call home and proud to lead for the past couple of years.
“I hope that the four years that I served you, I made you proud,” De La Isla said. “To those of you who did not vote for me. I hope that in the last four years I’ve shown you that I loved you just as much as I loved every person that voted for me as well. It has been a true privilege to be your mayor and I am so grateful.”
As for Topeka’s next mayor, Mike Padilla, she sends these words of advice.
“Mike you’ve got this,” De La Isla said. “Lead from your heart, don’t second guess. If it feels bad in your gut, it’s wrong. So don’t pause, listen to your gut. You’re going to do great, man. I’m proud of you.”
De La Isla thanks her daughters for their support over the past couple of years. She credits them for getting through all of the hard times.
“Thank you for being my partners,” De La Isla said to her children. “Thank you for being my everything and thank you for all three of my kids for being the reason that I do everything.”