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More minorities ought to step into city council race

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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On Nov. 8, Iowa City citizens will cast ballots to fill three City Council seats. As of today, the registered prospective candidates who will fill these ballots are all white males. Not one person of color, woman, disabled person, or LGBT person has thrown a hat into the ring. Diversity on the City Council is imperative, and women and underrepresented groups should seize the opportunity to become city councilors.

The three City Council seats are currently held by people from underrepresented demographics. Ross Wilburn, the first African-American mayor of Iowa City, will leave the District A seat. Regenia Bailey will leave the District C seat, which she has held since 2004. Mike Wright, who is openly gay, will leave the at-large seat he has held since 2008. If no other people announce their candidacies, the seats will be filled by three white men.

Iowa City has a growing minority population whose needs require attention and representation. U.S. Census data for 2010 for Johnson County shows that approximately 15 percent of Johnson County's population are minorities, and around 50 percent are women. Given these numbers, it's worrying that women and minorities are vastly underrepresented on the City Council — the councilors not up for re-election are two white women and one white man (Mayor Matt Hayek is running to keep his seat).

The City Council is on the diverse side, at least in terms of sex, compared with other cities in Iowa: the Coralville City Council is all men (and all white); Cedar Rapids has one woman out of eight city councilors, all of them white; and the Des Moines City Council has one white woman and six white men. Dubuque fares slightly better: Out of six city councilors, three are women (and one is black).

But if Connie Champion and Susan Mims choose not to run for re-election in 2014 and the candidates' slate is similar, the number of women on the City Council could drop further.

Obviously, an affirmative action or quota system is out of the question, but increased diversity on the City Council — and other facets of government — is essential to the success of city endeavors, policymaking, and citizen satisfaction.

"Having more African-American representation in politics has been clearly tied to important outcomes like having more African-American representation on the police force, having citizen councils in charge of policing complaints, and differences in preferences in spending for social policies," sociology Professor Mary Campbell told the DI Editorial Board on July 23.

Campbell's statement can also be applied to the other minority groups in Iowa City. These groups tend to voice their concerns and speak out more about community issues when there are councilors with whom they can identify.

More minority government members and minorities voicing concerns also contributes positively to political decision-making. A study done by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found"Diversity in political organizations has tremendous normative implications for the quality of political decision-making. Diversity matters because members of underrepresented groups bring new sets of skills and outlooks to political problems."

More women and minorities should consider running for City Council. If elected, they could provide necessary differing perspectives, aid in decision-making, and create more programs and projects to better the quality of life for minority groups. Current councilors aren't unable to do this, but having a minority on the City Council would enhance their capabilities.

"I think it's unfortunate that a woman or a minority or LGBT member is not running, but anyone can run, and it's up them to run," Wright told the *DI* Editorial Board. That much is true: We'd like to see more diversity on the council, but the onus is on women, sexual minorities, people with disabilities, and people of color to enter the fray. Candidates Dan Tallon and Josh Eklow are running to represent a younger demographic; other underrepresented groups should toss in their hats, too.

This upcoming election is an opportunity to add a new outlook to the City Council. The deadline for filing paperwork for candidacy is 5 p.m. Sept. 1; it's not too late for minority candidates to hop off the fence.


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