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Seize this opportunity, get involved with city politics

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The outcome of the 21-ordinance vote left many Iowa City denizens unhappy, including business owners, bar employees, and — most of all — University of Iowa students, who have expressed frustration at the Iowa City City Council’s repeated efforts to instate the ordinance.

While little can be done about the situation now, there is still much that the students can do to counter their perceptions (and reality) of voicelessness in the Iowa City community.

Last week, two councilors, Mike Wright and Ross Wilburn, announced they will not seek re-election, opening the field to newcomers — including, perhaps, students. The DI Editorial Board strongly encourages students to become involved and interested in this year’s upcoming city elections. Even more than simply becoming more active in the community and knowledgeable on possible candidates and their campaigns, students should take this opportunity to represent their peers and run for office.

A student on the City Council would provide an important voice for students in city affairs. Iowa City has around 60,000 residents and over 30,000 students attend the UI. While the relationship and extent of overlap between these figures is uncertain, students make up a large proportion of city dwellers when school is in session, and have a serious interest in city regulations and development.

While student candidates are uncommon, they aren’t inconceivable. In 2009, three UI students ran for open City Council seats: Dan Tallon, Jared Bazzell, and then-senior Jeff Shipley.

“I was just one individual pissed off by some of the issues,” Shipley told the Editorial Board. One of his biggest challenges was getting students to care as much as he did.

“While I was running, I got a lot of positive feedback from the students,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they just didn’t vote.”

Shipley finds it disheartening that many students will continue to abstain from voting, regardless of the severity and pertinence of the issue to them. “Students get the government they deserve,” he said.

Shipley, Tallon, and Bazzell aren’t the only UI students with past or present participation in council affairs. Elliot Higgins, the UI Student Government’s liaison to the City Council, largely encourages students to become more active in the community, and he would love to see a student councilor. Higgins is responsible for sitting in on all the City Council meetings and work sessions.

While Higgins does all this to keep tabs on the council’s activities, he is also able to advocate on the behalf of students.

“When I do speak, people listen,” Higgins told the Editorial Board.

Being a student himself, he realizes that students can be so consumed by their daily routines and acknowledges that they simply just forget about the political process — or they just didn’t care to begin with.

“I think it’s a shame,” he said. “A lot of it is apathy.”

Higgins said he believes the City Council only has the best interests of students and the town in mind; however, they just take a different perspective on some of the issues. “We’re just kinda at a different place in our lives than them,” he said.

If students don’t get involved, city officials have a harder time taking their considerations seriously. Despite the stereotypes of the drink-swilling, self-absorbed college sector, UI students can prove themselves mature enough and invested enough in the town to take part in local politics.

Of course, not any student candidate would do; students must ensure their representative is prepared for the responsibilities of the job. Being “pissed off” isn’t a good enough qualification, but some students are surely worthy of the position.

While running for City Council is not something to be undertaken lightly, UI students should participate in this vital component of democracy. At the very least, even if they are too busy, stressed, or ignorant to seriously consider the issues of the town, they should pay attention to who runs — and who best represents their interests.

Voting on one ordinance or ballot measure isn’t enough; if students want to be heard, they’d better speak up.


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