Incoming Lawrence mayor with uncommon job gets comfortable as a public figure

After having lived in Phoenix, Kansas City and San Francisco, what brought incoming Mayor Leslie Soden to Lawrence was simple.

“I was just kind of ready to settle down, and I wanted to have my own little place, and a yard and garden and a dog,” said Soden, who grew up in Topeka. “And I liked the people in Lawrence; I liked coming to Lawrence.”

So Soden looked for a job in what was then her field of choice, information technology, and moved to Lawrence in 1999. As the years passed, her involvement in goings-on at the city grew, too.

In November, Soden took up a part-time job where her clients don’t typically know who she is: driving for the online ride-hailing service Uber. Soden said many of the people she picks up are younger, typically college students.

For those who make conversation, Soden says those interactions have been helpful to her as a commissioner.

“It’s really interesting the things that people will talk about not knowing who I am,” Soden said. “So, I might ask questions: what do you think about this, what do you think about that?”

For instance, Soden said she recently picked someone up near a stoplight on 15th Street that was newly installed by the city.

“So I got to ask them, ‘What do you think about this stoplight?’ without that person having to feel like they had to diplomatically answer,” Soden said. “It just gives me like an honest, off-the-hip answer, and I really enjoyed that quite a bit.”

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