Half Moon Bay Councilwoman Marina Fraser has been selected chairwoman of the San Mateo County Council of Cities, giving the veteran politician a new leadership role in Peninsula politics.

Fraser is the first Half Moon Bay official in recent memory chosen for the role. She will preside over the group’s monthly meetings. Although not well-known to the general public, the Council of Cities dates back to 1966 and is a prominent group for elected leaders. The organization provides a place for council members from the county’s 20 cities to mingle, trade governance tips and cooperate on shared goals. Each city also gets one vote for appointing members to a variety of government bodies, such as the SamTrans board, the Association of Bay Area Governments board and two separate county housing committees.

Half Moon Bay councilmembers describe Fraser’s new position as the latest benefit from a continuing effort they’ve made in recent years to network with other cities across the Peninsula. In October, the group nominated then-mayor Allan Alifano to an open seat on the California Coastal Commission. That position ultimately went to county Supervisor Carole Groom.

Mayor Rick Kowlaczyk emphasized the extra involvement has opened up new opportunities for funding and partnerships for Half Moon Bay. He chalked up recent multimillion-dollar awards for highway and trail improvements as a direct result of Half Moon Bay’s stronger participation in such organizations.

“In years back, city leaders pulled back from the Council of Cities and all these regional positions, and we got very few grants and support,” he said. “Now we’re reaching out and playing a broader role so we can have a say.”

Fraser declined to comment in time for inclusion in this story.

The gatherings are typically informal affairs with members chatting over dinner. But when a choice position sought by several government heavyweights is up for a vote, the contest can be as competitive as any political standoff.

“It’s casual, I want to say lighthearted, until it comes to the voting, and then everyone gets really serious,” said Becky Romero, who oversees the meetings for the county manager’s office. “If someone is excited about getting on a board or commission, one they put their heart into, then it becomes all business.”

Fraser was nominated as Council of Cities chairwoman after serving last year as board secretary. She was left as the only nominee after Hillsborough Councilwoman Marie Chuang withdrew her name and opted instead for the vice-chair position.

Past contests for the top seat have seen fiercer competition, said former Chairwoman Terry Nagel, a councilwoman from Burlingame. But in recent years, the real fight on the Council of Cities has been appointing politicians to powerful government agencies, particularly the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the road-funding agency for all nine Bay Area counties.

“There’s this perception that MTC is the biggest funding source, so it’s good to have someone from your city there,” Nagel said.

A single open seat on the MTC at last month’s meeting put Kowalczyk in competition with council members from Pacifica, Burlingame, Redwood City and Millbrae. But none of the candidates received enough votes because an appointment requires support from at least 11 of the 20 cities. In the end, Kowalczyk and Pacifica Councilman Len Stone withdrew from the race, and the Council of Cities is expected to make a final decision later this month.

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