When she took the oath of office Wednesday night, Lori Saroya made history as the first woman of color and first Muslim to serve on the Blaine City Council.

Saroya, a first-time candidate, won a special election in November after a hard-fought campaign scarred by Islamophobic attacks. She will represent the First Ward in the southern part of Blaine, an Anoka County city of about 71,000 residents, for the next two years.

"I am excited to get started," said Saroya, 41, an 18-year Blaine resident who lives with her husband, Kashif, and three children. "There is so much to do. I want to get things done."

Saroya's to-do list includes looking at water quality concerns, tackling deferred municipal maintenance, shaping plans for development, addressing crime in the Northtown Mall area and making it safer to drive on Hwy. 65, one of the most traffic-choked and crash-prone roads in the metro.

One of her top priorities: creating a safe community for kids and addressing bullying, mental health and suicide.

"We keep seeing and hearing about it, but we are not really talking about it," said Saroya, who worked with groups that successfully advocated for the state's anti-bullying law. "Uncomfortable conversations need to be had."

Saroya is no stranger to difficult conversations. She served for seven years on the Blaine Charter Commission and already has a track record of advocating for First Ward residents.

In the spring, she decided she was ready to run for City Council — but wondered if Blaine was ready for her.

"Wearing a scarf, being a woman of color, I wondered if being elected was realistic," she said. "I never thought I could be in that position."

Saroya hired a campaign manager to set strategy for the August primary, in which she faced fellow Charter Commission member and former MnDOT finance director Dick Swanson and longtime resident and businessman Andrew Tortora. She and Swanson went on to the November general election.

The campaign was rough, Saroya said. She knocked on more than 5,000 doors, distributed flyers and lawn signs and even had campaign billboards around the city. She was subjected to many Islamophobic messages and attacks, and some lawn signs were vandalized. One resident, Saroya recalled, told her Blaine was not ready for a woman of color and she should campaign in another city. Others labeled her as radical and extremist, she said.

"Those comments motivated me; let me prove them wrong," Saroya said.

Though discouraging at times, Saroya marched on. And she found people from all backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities who embraced her tenacity and desire to be the voice for the First Ward. She won the seat with more than 50% of the vote.

"People elect you for what you bring to the table, and your passion, ideas and sincerity," Saroya said. "I felt I could bring possible change and get things done for the community."

Kailez Campbell, 19, had not had much interest in politics until she met Saroya. A friend of Campbell's died by suicide, and when Campbell learned that Saroya wanted to address the issue, "I wanted to get her elected to the City Council," Campbell said.

Campbell volunteered with Saroya's campaign and is contemplating running for the state Senate in 2026.

"She will do anything for community," Campbell said of Saroya. "Her selflessness and tireless advocacy for the needs of her constituents make her an invaluable leader and role model."

Saroya is the daughter of immigrants who came to the United States in the late 1960s. She grew up in Iowa and moved to Minnesota to study at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. She later earned a degree from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

A nonprofit consultant by trade, Saroya has served on several boards and commissions, including the Minnesota Judicial Branch Committee for Equality and Justice, St. Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits board of directors and the Mitchell Hamline School of Law alumni board.

Her awards and recognitions include a U.S. Congressional Tribute, St. Catherine University Alumni Award and the Minnesota Governor's Distinguished Service Award.

"Over the last decade as Blaine has continued to grow so has our diversity," said Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders said. "Having that diversity reflected in our governing body is important for our community."

As she takes her seat on the council, Saroya said she will use her experience to "elevate the community."

"I am going to give it my all," she said. "I am not a career politician. My goal is to be an advocate for Ward 1. That is what Ward 1 residents want."