Dakotah McGinlay understands the Steamboat Springs housing crisis in a way no other city council member does. When she ran for council in 2021, she was the only candidate or current council member to be renting her home, rather than owning it.
But, in an experience many impacted by the city’s lack of housing will never have, McGinlay’s mother was able to help her purchase a condo in District 3, which McGinlay represents, so she could continue representing her district without fear of being forced out due to cost or lack of housing.
McGinlay said she is incredibly grateful for the help and recognizes it’s a privilege many don’t have.
“I’ve always felt very privileged in life, not only living in America, but having the type of parents that I do and the opportunities that I do,” McGinlay said. “It’s privilege in a very strong sense, but also my awareness of that and wanting to really level with people, I couldn’t do what I’m doing without the community.”
At 26 years old, McGinlay is the youngest person on record to have been elected to Steamboat Springs City Council.
As a young person in the community, many of McGinlay’s close associates rent their housing and work in the service industry, which she believes has given her an inside perspective on speaking for a traditionally underrepresented group.
McGinlay grew up on the Front Range, then attended community college in Denver before finishing her education at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat, where she earned a degree in sustainability studies.
She chose Steamboat and CMC because of its proximity to outdoor recreation and agriculture, both of which she is heavily interested in. After graduating from CMC just one month ago, she hopes to begin working in agriculture, sustainability or social services.
When she first moved to town, McGinlay did not envision herself in government. Two years after arriving, McGinlay saw ads asking for people to run for city council, and she decided to go for it.
“I didn’t necessarily think I would win, but now here we are,” McGinlay said.
McGinlay beat Walter Magill, a longtime local and former city council member, by over 100 votes, which she said surprised her at the time.
Her success, she believes, came from months of knocking doors, handing out flyers and having face-to-face conversations with constituents, many of whom were not used to having their voices heard.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be the best candidate to take on those challenges,” McGinlay said of the issues facing the city. “But I think that the community saw that I have a lot of heart and a lot of patience and a lot of dedication to our community.”
Chris Ray, McGinlay’s partner and campaign manager, said the two met years ago through mutual friends. As Ray, peer recovery specialist at The Health Partnership, was going through his own recovery process, he and McGinlay connected over sobriety and taking mental health seriously.
Throughout the campaign process, Ray said he and McGinlay focused their efforts on making real connections with people, rather than quickly shaking hands in exchange for votes.
“We just kind of started that grassroots foundation of social media posts, and using our resources and connections throughout the community to get posted,” Ray said. “She’s always searching for ways to help her community out.”
McGinlay has made mental health and sobriety resources for the city a priority. When council voted to allow alcohol consumption in all parks, except for those with playgrounds, McGinlay asked other council members if they could find a way to support both restaurants wanting to sell alcohol and people in recovery lacking resources to get and stay sober.
“Drug addiction and substance use disorder are big struggles in our community,” McGinlay said in a Dec. 16 interview. “We really push ourselves hard, we work hard, and right along with that can come a path to alcoholism, because it’s normalized here.”
As the youngest member of council, McGinlay is aware she “has a lot to learn,” but her passion for helping and being willing to learn have guided her decisions in her three months since taking office.
“I have the floor, so it will just take some time for me to fully step into that confidence,” McGinlay said.
Council President Robin Crossan said he believes McGinlay, though young, has a bright future ahead of her leading the city.
“She’s willing to make the phone calls, to start to dig deep, to try to understand issues, and I believe that in the future, as she is now, she will become an even greater presence for our community,” Crossan said in a Friday, Jan. 28 interview. “She understands that she has a lot to learn, and she is willing to do it.”