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Mayoral Race 2023 Preview: Political newcomer Zaritz seeking mayor’s seat

Natelege Zartiz, a stay-at-home mom with a background in real estate, is one of three candidates running for mayor of Three Rivers on the Tuesday, Aug. 8 primary ballot. (Photo provided)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

Editor’s note: This article, originally published in the July 28 edition of the Commercial-News, is the third of three articles in a series profiling all three candidates in the race for Mayor of Three Rivers.

THREE RIVERS — Natelege Zaritz admits she didn’t pay too much attention to politics until after the 2016 presidential election.

The 46-year-old stay-at-home mom said that election, which she did not vote in, inspired her to become more politically active and do more research on issues around the country.

“I discovered a lot about myself, I discovered a lot about candidates and politicians, and I found I had the wrong idea about a lot of stuff, and it was up to me to find out that information,” Zaritz said. “I’ve been studying that and paying attention and following all kinds of developments in our country, maybe more on a national scale, and probably two years ago I figured I need to do something other than watch and comment and get into Twitter debates.”

Zaritz, who was appointed to the Planning Commission in May, said she didn’t consider being mayor until a couple of unexpected people convinced her to run.

“I didn’t make the decision until two children in my life made the suggestion out of nowhere; my daughter and my best friend’s son,” Zaritz said. “Granted, it was bit of a selfish request on their behalf, but it planted the seed in my mind.”

That seed eventually sprouted into Zaritz’s candidacy for the office of mayor of Three Rivers, one of three candidates, including Vernis Mims and incumbent Tom Lowry, vying for the seat in the Tuesday, Aug. 8 primary election. The top two candidates from the August primary will make it to the Tuesday, Nov. 7 general election.

Zartiz is a native of Chicago, and has lived in the Three Rivers area for the past nine years. An ex-military wife, she lived in Fairbanks, Alaska when her then-husband was stationed in the Army until moving to the St. Joseph County area after the pair divorced. She said she got exposed to St. Joseph County coming to the Klinger Lake area every summer with family.

Some of the things Zaritz said she enjoys most about Three Rivers is the historic architecture of the city, as well as the quieter pace and cleanliness of the city.

“Being from Chicago, it’s beautiful here,” Zaritz said. “I like a slower pace for my kids, and they love it. When we go back to Chicago to visit my mom, they’re not very happy. It’s pretty congested for them, they’re overstimulated. We stay in the house with her, we don’t really go out like we used to, and I think it’s a better place to raise children.”

One of the biggest issues Zaritz said is facing the city has to do with kids, saying she’s concerned about kids allegedly going to different locations in the city and partying. She said she wants to get kids more involved in the city as well as give them more things to do.

“Here, people talk about it all the time, but it has to be a concerted effort. I’d like to see a youth council or advisory board formed, maybe the youth can do some more outreach, but it’s kind of a wider subject that would take parental involvement and maybe some strong, talented minds to rise to the occasion in the next few years in terms of that,” Zaritz said.

The biggest thing she said kids need, though, is “a taste of civics and financial literacy” first and foremost.

“They need is a taste of civics and financial literacy so they can have some idea as to what their future’s going to be here, what they want to do with themselves and their talent, and how to make the right decisions in their lives so they don’t make a really bad decision and mess up their lives in the future,” Zaritz said. “I see so many talented kids in this town, they can sing, dance, speak, do art, and are passionate about talking about issues but they don’t really have a lot of knowledge and don’t have a great world view. I think they need to learn about some of the ways other people their age live around the world besides what they just see here.”

Financial literacy for residents is also a key part of her platform, as she believes the city should offer free courses to residents under 35 years old to “at least explain where they are on the map financially.”

“It seems to me when I look around, older generations are on top of their finances and politics, they understand what they do from day to day and how it affects the bottom line for the entire town,” Zaritz said. “Whereas, we have the younger group that’s more concerned with social justice and stuff like that, which is awesome, but they’re lacking in that department of understanding financial literacy and being financially ready to take on opportunities that are coming. This town is an opportunity zone; that’s why we have a lot of investors coming in, having a lot of businesses being built on 131, that’s going to further increase the market value of property here and make it harder for people who grew up here to purchase a home.”

Zaritz said she also believes residents should take charge of shaping their own future when it comes to land ownership and housing stock, noting that “everyone is capable of changing their future” and that the way to increase housing is to get citizens more involved in the process.

“There’s business opportunities for people. If there’s someone here and you want to see more housing, I hate to tell you this, but you’ll have to get your real estate license, you have to start coming to meetings, you have to start talking to construction companies. You’re going to have to get involved, because these people are moving ahead in their development,” Zaritz said. “The people I see on the sidelines complaining a lot, they could stand to put in a little more work and a little more participation and a little more support for city government, as far as I’m concerned, claiming their stake in this country and getting serious about land ownership and their own future. It’s a two-way street; it’s not just on city government and developers. Those people are working 24/7 to get things off the ground.”

When it comes to infrastructure, Zaritz said roads and water are the two biggest issues in the city, but she said the city is currently already working “very hard” on addressing those issues and needs more support from the community, as well as more funding.

“I don’t think I need to do anything that’s drastically different than what’s already being done,” Zaritz said, noting the city’s current efforts to come up with a project plan to get funds for lead pipe replacement. “I don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing, I think they need more support and more funding. I think the city needs to commit to matching if not exceeding whatever amount they come up with, and work vigorously to get more revenue in town to pour that money into the citizens and improving our quality of life.”

She said, though, that she has ran into a lot of issues with water while talking to people on the campaign trail.

“It kind of broke my heart to discover the people who are paying the most in property taxes and taking care of these historical properties and maintaining the spirit of the town have the worst water. That’s not fair,” Zaritz said. “Does the city want to see these people leave town? I don’t think so. We need them here, and they need fresh water.”

Finally, Zaritz said an issue she wants to address is public safety funding. She noted the observed shorthandedness of both the fire and police departments, and wants to help them out if she is elected.

“I think [the police department] needs more equipment and an increase in salary. The salary needs to go up high enough that we become appealing and attractive to outside police officers that are looking to relocate and recruit better and more talent. I appreciate the officers we have,” Zaritz said. “The fire department needs a lot more funding for more supplies, again, for the same reason, an increase in salary and recruiting more workers here.”

To find that funding, Zaritz said to look no further than the city’s net position in the budget.

“We’re sitting on a little bit of money; our net position is pretty good right now. We’re sitting on some cash and we can reallocate that towards paying people more and not brushing them off when they come to talk about it,” Zaritz said. “They put their lives on the line, and I think they need to make the same kind of money or at least have the same kind of respect and adoration from citizens as they do for big-time athletes.”

Overall, Zaritz said she is the best candidate for mayor because she is “ready to work for the citizens” of Three Rivers.

“I know how to listen to people, and for me, ultimately people are going to make a good decision,” Zaritz said. “I know I’m the best candidate because I’m working for my own children. It may be selfish, but my kids live here, and I want the best for them. That’s my greatest impetus for doing what I’m doing. If you look at me, you’re going to know this woman is working for her kids, she wants a beautiful environment for her children. It’s not for me, not for prestige or any other reason that I want to serve my community as opposed to just sitting back and observing things happen. I know I’m going to get in there and help a lot of the youth and people who might be a little bit jaded and feel like they’re on the margins, and I want to bring those people in. I want to light a fire under the 7,000-plus people that live here and show them they have the power to shape their future.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

One Reply to “Mayoral Race 2023 Preview: Political newcomer Zaritz seeking mayor’s seat

  1. I do not live in the city but have worked in the city for over 50 years. I take proud ownership of this community. I like what this candidate stands for but wish that she had more “ history “ with our community. That being said I would much rather see a run off with Tom Lowery than the other candidate. I would encourage a debate between candidates before the final election. This should be the responsibility of the DDA or the city manager.

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