‘We need to leverage every resource possible’: Coralville City Councilmember Hai Huynh kicks off her reelection campaign

Coralville City Councilmember Hai Huynh speaking at her campaign kickoff in Central Park, July 19, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

“I feel like we just did this yesterday,” Hai Huynh said at the kickoff event for her reelection campaign in Coralville’s Central Park on Monday evening.

Huynh was elected to the Coralville City Council in the September 2020 special election to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Tom Gill. Huynh won the four-way race with 52 percent of the vote, 17 percentage points ahead of her nearest competitor.

“When Hai was elected to the Coralville City Council, we changed Coralville,” Sue Dvorsky said, introducing Huynh at Monday’s event. Dvorsky, a former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party and one of Johnson County’s best known political activists, continued, “Just by the election, before she did a single thing, she changed this community. She made this community stand up, take notice, look around at our neighbors and understand we’re all in this together.”

Inclusivity was something Huynh stressed when she spoke to Little Village about her reelection bid last week.

“We need to look at the needs of everyone,” she said. “We can’t just single out some population and meet the need of that population, and say we’ve done our job.”

It was also a major theme of Huynh’s speech in Central Park.

“Last summer when I made the decision to run for this seat, it wasn’t for self-gain. It was for collective strength, for all of us, for Coralville as a community,” Huynh said. “I wanted to see someone who looked like me, spoke like me, experienced the world like me to be sitting at the decision-making table.”

“I still believe our vision for a better Coralville, where everyone matters, where we put people first.”

Huynh has lived in Coralville for two decades and is the community project coordinator for the Coralville Community Food Pantry. She has long been active as a volunteer in organizations such as the Coralville Public Library and Johnson County Conservation, but last year’s election was the first time she’d run for public office.

“I never thought that I would run for public office,” Huynh told Little Village. “It had never crossed my mind. But with everything that’s happened within the last year and a half or two years, I had a lot of people who I trust say it’s time for change and encourage me to run.”

Sue Dvorksy speaking at Hai Huynh’s campaign event in Central Park, July 19, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Huynh’s family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1993, when she was 16 years old. She attended the University of Iowa, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. While at UI, Huynh also attended La’ James International College, earning a cosmetology license.

“I chose to put down roots in Johnson County, where I have proudly lived in a mobile home community, a subsidized apartment, a duplex and a single-family home,” Huynh said when she announced her run for the city council in last year’s special election.

Huynh said the four issues she campaigned on last year — people-first development, community mobility, racial and economic justice, and climate action — are also the main issues for her reelection effort. But the challenges created by the ongoing pandemic recovery, as well as the opportunities afforded by federal aid via the American Rescue Plan, are also central issues.

Huynh said Coralville needs “a robust COVID recovery plan.”

“We need to leverage every resource possible to help our neighbors who have been hit really hard by the pandemic, especially those who have been excluded from any type of state or federal relief. And our vision for a better Coralville continues with prioritizing a development plan that truly benefits everyday Coralville families, not just the ones who are well-resourced.”

Turning to the four issues she ran on last year, Huynh said the city, known for focusing its development policies on big-ticket items like Coral Ridge Mall and the Iowa River Landing, needed to be inclusive in its approach to development.

“We cannot allow small businesses and low-income families to get priced out and displaced,” she said. “They are what make Coralville great, and we need to fight for them.”

Huynh said some progress was being made on issues of community mobility, but there is “room for improvement.”

The most obvious difficulty remains the lack of bus service on Sundays, which “causes hardship for a lot of people that cannot get to and from work.”

People gathered in Coralville’s Central Park for Hai Huynh’s campaign kickoff, July 19, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

While expanding bus service is an area “where we can focus our energy to make change,” community mobility goes beyond public transportation, Huynh explained. It also involves biking — Huynh said she wants the city to become more bike-friendly and improve its bike lanes — and walkability.

“We have trails, but a lot of our trails are not completed and a lot of our sidewalks end abruptly. We can improve that.”

“Mobility is not a luxury, it’s a right,” she said.

Huynh was elected in September to fill the remaining term of longtime councilmember Tom Gill, who resigned following public outrage spurred by him calling Black Lives Matter supporters “a bunch of criminals” during a July 2020 council meeting. He added, “And that’s why I have zero tolerance for BLM. I’m sorry, but I will fight you to my living end.”

Huynh has very different views on racial justice.

“When Black and brown lives matter, we all do better,” Huynh told the approximately two dozen people who attended her campaign event on Monday. “The fight for racial and economic justice will be long. But I’m invested and committed to continue to learn, to advocate and to put in the work. And I’m asking all of you for help for that.”

Huynh called the Citizen’s Community Police Advisory Board that had its first meeting in June “a good start,” but said more needs to be done.

“We must prioritize the safety and the wellbeing of our Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and people of color,” she said. This can be done by taking steps that include “investment in BIPOC businesses, and commitment to fair wages and fair housing.”

Hai Huynh serving food to people at her campaign event in Coralville’s Central Park, July 19, 2021. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Huynh concluded her speech by calling for the city to face up to the “frightening reality of climate change,” and saying she wants Coralville to become a model for “prioritizing climate action.”

She finished by telling supporters she can only make the sort of progress Coralville needs, “when I can link arms with all of you.”

“Let’s do this together,” she said, as the crowd applauded.

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