Emmanuelle seeks a third term on the Eau Claire City Council

Catherine Emmanuelle continues to promote changes, both within and through politics

More stories from Taylor Hagmann



After six years on the Eau Claire City Council, and despite–or perhaps because of–the trials she faces, Catherine Emmanuelle seeks reelection to “break down barriers” and “reflect all people.”

About a year and a half ago, Catherine Emmanuelle sat and tried to breastfeed her  infant son. This should have been a normal occurrence, as the child was 11 months old, but the event nevertheless sparked controversy, because Emmanuelle was not doing so in the privacy of her own home.

Instead, she was on the dais during an Eau Claire City Council meeting. The event sparked a vote, which passed, to ban children from the dais.

The ban was lifted, but Emmanuelle, who has been on the council since 2012, has been using that event as well as others like it to raise awareness of the need for diversity, inclusivity and accessibility within the Eau Claire city government.

“Women (in politics) have to balance family life and political life,” Emmanuelle said. “If we have a political structure that doesn’t welcome people in their lives, we’re going to cut out women. We need to figure out how to take down barriers. Our system is set up for mainstream norms and the reality is that our world isn’t made up of mainstream norms: there’s a lot of complexity. And government should reflect all people.”

Emmanuelle attended UW-Eau Claire as a non-traditional student. She developed a taste for politics, and, after she graduated, Emmanuelle said she applied twice for the vacancy on the city council, and twice came up short with only one council member voting for her. On her third attempt, in 2012, Emmanuelle said she finally got a seat, which she continues to serve in today.

“I really have a passion for local government,” Emmanuelle said. “For me, local government changed my life. It welcomed me and incorporated me into the community. The type of government I want to contribute to is welcoming people into the local community.”

Raising Awareness

Emmanuelle said she focuses a lot on inclusivity. She said she knows first-hand what it takes to defy those adversities. As a woman of color and a mother, she has unique insight that the typical white, male politician would have little experience with, she said.

“As the first Latina to serve on the city council and the first member in its history to have a child while in office, Catherine brings a unique energy and perspective,” Joe Luginbill said.

Luginbill is the youngest elected official in city history to serve as president of the Eau Claire School Board. He is also the first openly gay member of the School Board.

Andrew Werthmann, acting president of the Eau Claire City Council, and the only one who voted for Emmanuelle when she first sought a seat on the council, said he agrees with Luginbill.

“(Emmanuelle has the) ability to raise up those not included, those who feel marginalized,” Werthmann said. “She brings an expertise beyond crafting legislation.”

Over the years, Emmanuelle and Luginbill have worked in tandem.

With Emmanuelle on the Council working with some high school students, and Luginbill on the Eau Claire School Board, both have worked to provide opportunities for students and their families, Luginbill said.

“Catherine brings value to our community and to these discussions as an advocate for those who are still finding their voice,” Luginbill said. “She is passionate about bringing as many voices to the table as possible. Ultimately, her leadership style is one that supports sustainable progress and capacity-building.”

Shining Her Light

Emmanuelle’s influence spans far beyond the Eau Claire City Council.

She is the Area Extension Director for UW-Madison, in addition to being part of the Division of Extension for the Chippewa, Dunn and Eau Claire counties. She was also the recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Women of Color in Education award.

Luginbill describes Emmanuelle as being professional in office and passionate in her beliefs.

“Catherine has broken down barriers for other parents who decide to serve in public office, and she has been a phenomenal role model for young women in our community,” Luginbill said. “Catherine never backs down and does not let anyone dim her light, and that is why she is an inspiration to many people in this community, including me.”

Werthmann said he and Emmanuelle don’t always agree on policies and legislation, but regardless, he used similar words to describe Emmanuelle.

“We have disagreed, but I have an underlying respect for her,” Worthmann said. “The caring, passion and creativity that she has for the community overcome policy differences.”

Emmanuelle is currently in her second reelection campaign, hoping to stay on the council for her third consecutive term. The vote will take place April 2.

Hagmann can be reached at [email protected].