Bruce Teague was voted Best Elected Official in Little Village’s 2020 Best of the CRANDIC competition.
When Bruce Teague was sworn in on Jan. 2, he expected much of his first year as mayor of Iowa City to focus on affordable housing and other typical mayoral issues. But 20 days later, the CDC received the first report of a case of COVID-19 in the United States.
There was no chance of it being a normal year after that. Instead, 2020 turned into the kind of year when even a devastating natural disaster like the Aug. 10 derecho competes for headlines.
“This has been a challenging year, but I am so grateful that 2020 happened,” Teague told Little Village. That sentiment may sound strange to anyone who doesn’t share Teague’s optimism — or his habit of looking for opportunities during bad times.
“When it comes to the coronavirus, I think it really did band our community together and show us that we could come together to handle it,” he said.
And it was up to the community and to local governments to take action on COVID-19, after the state and federal governments abdicated much of their responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus.
Of course, the pandemic wasn’t the only major challenge the city faced in 2020.
On May 25, Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, and public reaction to video footage of the killing forced communities nationwide to face the problems of systemic racism and police violence and inspired weeks of protests in the streets.
“As an individual, as a Black man, what I saw in that video crushed me to my core,” Teague said. “But as mayor, I knew our whole community was hurting, and it was important for people to grieve together as a community.”
The mayor was one of the main speakers at the first Black Lives Matter protest in Iowa City on May 30. But Teague said he was concerned that people who he knew weren’t at the protest didn’t have a chance to share their stories, so the city organized three community conversation events.
“We took the meetings to where people live,” Teague said. “It was important to do that.”
The protests continued in Iowa City, and there were tensions between the city’s elected leaders and the Iowa Freedom Riders (IFR), the newly formed group of community activists leading the protests—especially after law enforcement used tear gas during a June 3 protest.
On June 16, the city council responded to the protests by passing a 17-point resolution creating a framework to address systemic racism and the need for police reform. Teague credits IFR with bringing the issues in the resolution to the forefront and pushing the city to take action.
IFR leaders have criticized Teague for moving too slowly and said the city council’s actions haven’t gone far enough.
“I understand that,” he said. “There’s a need for change, and it should have happened yesterday.” But he also stressed the actions taken so far are only the first steps.
“We need to make some huge progress,” Teague continued. “This year has sidetracked some of that, because of the major events we’ve experienced. But I do believe we will recalibrate and move forward on making some bold changes within our community that are so desperately needed.”
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 289.