A global pandemic. Wildfires. Environmental degradation.
These are top of mind for Atherton City Council candidate Diana Hawkins-Manuelian — but they weren't always.
"In the past, I didn't particularly follow politics (neither local nor national)," she said. "I have only recently become a news junkie when the world got so crazy."
The 27-year Atherton resident, who has thrown her hat in the ring for the town's City Council election coming Nov. 3, said she is a very unlikely person to be running for political office. "But here I am," she said.
Her candidate statement sums up her attitude: "I am not a politician but instead a concerned citizen who would like to provide a voice of reason, cooperation and direction."
While Hawkins-Manuelian lacks political experience, she has plenty of credentials. A doctorate from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a postdoctoral degree from MIT, and professional consulting experience with companies like NBC, MTV, and Citibank. She currently serves on Atherton's Environmental Programs Committee, where she pursues her passion for environmental advocacy.
She's also a mother of three — all raised in Atherton. Like many mothers, Hawkins-Manuelian said she is currently helping her youngest son Marco, 14, navigate remote learning with schools closed due to COVID-19.
Like many Bay Area residents, she's feeling the effects of the CZU Lightning Complex fires. "This week I have been reeling from the impact of wildfires and unhealthy levels of smoke," she said. "Our beloved forests are burning."
Hawkins-Manuelian said a close friend of hers lost everything in the fires, escaping only with his family and pets.
Her official candidate website, launched this week, lists fire safety among her first priorities. She said she is against Atherton leaving the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, a controversial proposal the City Council considered earlier this year.
Her other key priorities: support for the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency preparedness, and climate change. She said she hopes to see the town do more to make a difference in the battle against global warming.
"We are all in this together. We all breathe the same air and live on the same planet," she told the magazine Atherton Living recently. "The solutions will not only come from large cultural and systemic changes, but also from many individual changes that we each make every day."
One Atherton-specific environmental idea she has: A program that "will help all residents and gardeners make the conversion to electric leaf blowers."
Hawkins-Manuelian is one of four candidates vying for two open seats on the City Council. She's up against two well-established incumbents: Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and Councilman Cary Wiest, along with newcomer Christine David, a former Park & Recreation Committee chair.
This year will be Atherton's first contested election since 2014, with the current members on the council having been appointed.
Hawkins-Manuelian was born in Fort Hood, Texas, and moved around often, both in the U.S. and Germany, as her father was in the Army. She spent her middle school years in Monterey, and high school years in upstate New York. Her husband, George Manuelian, is an executive in Amazon's Global Alliance team.
As a social scientist, her research interests have been in tech and media — particularly its effect on youth. She's a board member for America Offline, an organization that encourages young people to unplug from technology and engage in outdoor activities.
In her candidate statement, Hawkins-Manuelian emphasized that she would like to see more community togetherness in Atherton — where many affluent residents live behind tall fences.
"Like my fellow Atherton residents, I value my privacy but at the same time need community. In the last 20 years that I have lived in Atherton, I have never seen more people walking the streets than I have during quarantine. Things are changing in our world and we are all in this together."