Kingsley Botchway kicked off his campaign for reelection to his at-large Iowa City Council seat with an event at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom last Friday. As people gathered in the game room to talk about issues, play ping-pong and share a meal, Botchway discussed three issues he plans to focus on if re-elected: affordable housing, mental health and economic development, including supporting small businesses.
Although he was there to listen to constituents and gain support, he was also focused on ensuring everyone left happy and full.
“Did you get something to eat?” He asked nearly everyone he met.
Botchway, currently serving as Iowa City Mayor Pro Tem, is all about food. During his speech to the gathered crowd, he spoke about the first time Mazahir Salih, another candidate for a city council at-large seat, welcomed him into her home and made him food.
“I loved it,” Botchway said, “If you know me, you know I love to eat.”
Emiliano Martinez, a University of Iowa student who recently worked as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, praised Botchway’s efforts to speak with people in the community.
“Kingsley said the only way to help is by knocking on doors and to have a real conversation with people” Martinez said. “He wants to spend time talking to people more, and this community values that people have a say in how the community develops.”
In an interview with Little Village, Botchway himself said, “I don’t pretend that I have all the answers.” This is something Tessa Heeran, a research assistant at the University of Iowa Public Policy Center who has worked with Botchway since 2015, noted as one of his strengths.
“Kingsley is someone who really listens to people. He has his own ideas, but wants other people’s’ opinions — that’s ideal leadership,” Heeran said.
Bernie Frank, a co-pastor at Gospel Explosion Ministry, met Botchway during their time working for Reach For Your Potential, an organization that provides services for people with disabilities in the Iowa City area. During his first city council campaign Frank said she supported him as a precinct captain and plans to get involved in this year’s campaign as well.
“He has a love for youth and disenfranchised individuals and is good at whatever he does,” Frank said.
In his speech, Botchway said the issue of mental health is “near and dear to my heart” because he has a friend who struggles with schizophrenia. He said Iowa City needs to do better with mental health education as well as implement programs that will help people recover from their mental health issues, rather than be punished for it by going to jail.
“I can’t sit here and say we have such a great community when there are all these people on the streets having episodes and then being sent to jail or to the emergency room where they are not being helped,” Botchway said in an interview.
Kari Vogelgesang, a University of Iowa College of Education professor, said that Botchway’s goals align with her missions and passions, as well as those of the college.
Historically, communities tried to solve the issue of diversity in schools by busing students from different neighborhoods to schools outside of their neighborhood, but Vogelgesand call busing a Band-Aid.
“Diversity through affordable housing is a fix,” she said, adding that diversifying neighborhoods and increasing diversity in schools will help Iowa City build bridges across cultures.
“We need affordable housing in all areas, and he advocates for that,” she said. “He will help provide affordable housing in the community, not just in one area — that creates ghettos”
Iowa House Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) praised Botchway’s work raising money for Rose Oak residents who had to seek new places to live last year after they were told they couldn’t renew their leases .
“I am an advocate of Kingsley because I’ve seen his leadership on city council and his willingness to look our for citizens who are ignored,” Mascher said. “He helped get money for those to relocate who couldn’t put down payments. Kingsley said he needed to make sure these people land soft.”
Salih, a community organizer with the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa and a native of Sudan, said their ideas on how to help the community are aligned. Through the center, Salih also helped Rose Oak residents recover. Her campaign manager, Shawn Harmsen, said both Botchway and Salih are connected to various parts of the community and together can bring diverse voices into city government.
Botchway said that a vote for him is a vote for Salih; that he is not running against her, but alongside her.
During his speech, Botchway said he did not initially intend to run. However, he said he thought about what his grandfather told him about the importance of empowering and helping people. To do this, Botchway said it all starts in the home and around the table. He hopes to focus on stabilizing Iowa City homes and neighborhoods as a way to help strengthen the community.
“We need to get together, to have conversations and to move forward,” Botchway said.