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Painting a brighter future for Sterling

The city’s future is a blank canvas, but its new alderwoman can already see the big picture

STERLING – New city alderwoman Mackenzie Hopping believes that great things can be achieved through the combination of art and business.

Hopping, 36, is a freelance artist who has done extensive research on the history of Sterling artists who made great contributions to the city’s growth. The culmination of her work was an exhibit showcased at Woodlawn Arts Academy last year called “Sterling’s Lost Identity – Imagine. Create. Innovate.”

Hopping sees the council as a great opportunity for bringing together the city’s collective left and right brains in a manner that both dares to dream and is capable of making it happen.

“There is a history of artists in Sterling who innovate, and we need that now because this is an exciting time for the city,” Hopping said. “After the mill, we’re searching for our identity and rebranding Sterling.”

Hopping’s interests and experience seem to align well with the 3rd Ward she will be representing. Since coming here 3 years ago, in addition to creating and teaching art, she has done marketing work downtown, where she got to know many of the business owners. She plans to reach out to the local merchants to find out how she can help them.

She also is a champion for the redevelopment of the riverfront, a process that calls for plenty of innovation and money.

“The first time we drove into town, my husband said that the Lawrence building would make a great artist studio,” Hopping said. “To transform the National and Lawrence buildings, the entire community will have to step up and brainstorm because the city can’t pay for it all.”

Hopping grew up in Reston, Virginia, near the nation’s capital, where she fell in love with its history and was bitten by the public service bug. Her Sterling art history research brought her back to Washington twice, particularly for Grace Redfield (Boynton) Logan, an artist and social activist who Hopping greatly admires.

“Her dad was one of the city’s early leaders and her mother was the first woman in Sterling to vote,” Hopping said. “Grace eventually went to Washington, where she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement with Susan B. Anthony.”

Sterling quickly felt like home for Hopping and her husband, Jacob, a surgeon at CGH Medical Center. She had thought about running for council for a while, but she wondered whether she had time to make the commitment to city government. In addition to her art, she was coaching track and teaching at Christ Lutheran, active in the boosters club, working downtown, and they were in the process of adopting their second child.

She reached out to several people, including State Rep. Tony McCombie, and she decided there would never be a perfect time to balance family and the council.

“I thought about women like Grace and others who have worked so hard to serve and make a difference, and I felt like I had to do this,” Hopping said.

So she removed her marketing job, track and the boosters from her plate, and by summer had decided she would take out papers and make a council run. But the resignation of Bob Conklin from the seat moved up the timetable. Mayor Skip Lee appointed her to complete Conklin’s term and she was approved and sworn in Oct. 1.

“I didn’t anticipate getting appointed, but I suppose it reaffirmed that I was supposed to do this,” Hopping said.

The council is now made up of three men and three women, but in addition to gender diversity, Hopping also brings a younger voice to the council for an age group she says is not being heard. She hopes to get more young people involved in the community.

This is the second time Lee has appointed Hopping to a city seat – he named her to the library board a couple of years ago. He said she is a quick study and brings plenty of enthusiasm and energy to the council.

“Some candidates come to political bodies with agendas or an ax to grind, but she genuinely loves living in Sterling and wants to make it a better place,” Lee said.

The mayor likes the idea of bringing a younger, fresh perspective to the board.

“As we get older, we tend to filter proposals, and someone younger will remind us that there’s nothing wrong with dreaming and asking ‘why not?’”

Lee also likes that her interest in economic development and the riverfront enable her to look at the big picture and ward-specific issues.

So far, Hopping is the only candidate running for the 3rd Ward seat in the April 2 general election.


Third Ward Alderwoman Mackenzie Hopping can be reached at

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