The results of the 2020 general election will have Modesto residents filling out ballots once again in 2021, this time for a mayoral runoff election between Sue Zwahlen and Doug Ridenour.

After the final tally of the November 3 election, Zwahlen led the group of eight candidates with 24% of the vote, with Ridenour coming in second place with 19% of the vote.

But who is Sue Zwahlen?

Sue Zwahlen

Photo of Sue Zwhalen courtesy of

Sue Zwahlen is 66 years old and was born and raised in Modesto. Zwahlen moved to Oakland to attend Samuel Merritt Univeristy’s School of Nursing, where she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. This led to her working as an emergency room nurse for around 40 years. In 1976, she married her husband Lynn Zwahlen. After living in Dallas and San Francisco for several years for educational and career purposes, the two moved back to Modesto in 1982. Together, they have 6 children, as well as 10 grandchildren.

Zwahlen has a political history of 11 years. In 2008, she ran to represent California’s District 10 in the House of Representatives, an election she lost although having received huge support from Stanislaus County voters. In 2009, she won a seat on the Modesto City Schools Board of Education, and won a second term in 2013. Zwahlen has also endorsed Josh Harder as representative for California’s 10th congressional district since 2018. 

When Zwahlen initially announced her campaign for Modesto mayor, she explained her vision for the city of Modesto in an official statement

“Modesto must present a united front on public safety, job creation, affordable housing, and a healthy quality of life for all residents. Division does nothing to further our city’s interests. As Mayor, I will work with my council colleagues on moving Modesto forward. I will help us find common ground,” she said.

Zwahlen also believes that her experience as a nurse and school board member will help her serve the public well.

Destiny Murillo (junior, Social Sciences) agreed, saying “I think her experience in nursing should benefit a lot of people, especially right now."

Veronica Hernandez (sophomore, Ethnic Studies) has similar feelings.

 “I think what makes her a good candidate to be a mayor in Modesto is her 40 years of being a nurse. I think that's a pretty good background…  I think she can handle this [leadership position] pretty well,” Hernandez said. 

On her campaign website, Zwahlen highlights some of her priorities, which include improving healthcare and education, the local economy, affordable housing, and uniting the community. 

“I have had experience caring for mentally ill people that are in mental health crises, people that struggle with chemical dependency, and other issues. Some of the problems that people deal with are living on the streets and they struggle in those areas. So I feel like my experience as an emergency room nurse uniquely qualifies me to lead at this particular time,” Zwahlen explains.

Zwahlen also mentioned that if she were to win the runoff election, she would focus strongly on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and present a very consistent message regarding the importance of wearing masks, physically distancing and washing hands. 

Zwahlen adds that she has been endorsed by Congressman Harder and Senator Susan Eggman for this mayoral race. Zwahlen said that if she were elected as mayor, she would look forward to working with them to bring federal and state resources to the Modesto community. She believes that this is necessary in order to help people get through the pandemic, unemployment, and other issues that may arise.

Local education is also very important to Zwahlen, as her six children attended public schools in the Modesto area, which led to her learning about problems that those schools faced. Because of this, Zwahlen campaigned and was eventually elected to the Modesto City School Board in 2009. During her time as the board president, Zwahlen helped increase graduation rates and help decrease suspension rates in the district. 

“I was board president two times and when I was first elected, it was in the midst of the Great Recession,” Zwahlen explained. “It was very tough budget times and we were able to navigate those waters with consistency and respect and civility on our school board even though we all had very different ideas on how to do it. What I hope to bring to the city council is that same ethical, moral, civil, respectful behavior so that the people in Modesto get the leadership that they so deserve.”

Zwahlen’s Facebook page is another great source for the politician’s views. When asked about how she would work on economic development, Zwahlen answered, “One way is to bring all resources together, including city, county, state and federal, to improve our city.” She also says that accountability can help bring progress to the city.

According to Stan State enrollment demographics, there are over 5,300 students from Stanislaus County enrolled at Stan State for the fall 2020 semester. Modesto is part of Stanislaus County, so Zwahlen believes that many young people could be affected by the mayoral race and urged them to vote in this runoff election.

“Students and young voters, in particular, really drop off in these runoff elections and we need that same enthusiasm as we had for our presidential race and congressional races and senatorial races on the local level because this is where decisions are made that so directly impact you, your families, your siblings, and other students.” 

Mail-in ballots will be distributed to citizens starting on January 4 and must be returned by mail, placed in an official drop box, or delivered to the Stanislaus County Elections Office at 1021 I Street by the runoff election date of February 2.

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