Iowa City Council member Kingsley Botchway II, who is currently serving in an at-large seat as mayor pro-tem, is running for re-election in the Nov. 7 election emphasizing the issues of affordability, economic development and mental health in Iowa City.
Botchway’s path has diverged slightly from when he was a kid in South Carolina and wanted to be a pediatrician.
“This may be a cliche reason, but it’s because I wanted to help people,” he said.
However, when he entered undergrad at the University of South Carolina he chose to study criminology — something he saw as a different way of helping people. He earned his professional doctorate in law from the University of Iowa, where he studied disability rights, and afterwards joined Reach For Your Potential to work with individuals with disabilities. Now, as the director of equity and engagement within the Iowa City Community School District, he works to eliminate discrimination and disproportionality among students and staff.
“It is more about empowering people than helping them,” Botchway said in an interview with Little Village. “When we’re talking about empowering people, it’s about, ‘How do I look at systemic structures and either help them or destroy them so that people can have access to things they couldn’t access before.’”
In his hometown in South Carolina, Botchway’s mother, a nurse, has spent a lot of time helping his aunt who was diagnosed with schizophrenia this past winter. Due to this new, and very personal development, Botchway said mental health is taking a front seat in his campaign.
“There’s a lot of questions going through my mind knowing we were thinking of doing crisis intervention with our officers,” Botchway said.
Since working for Reach For Your Potential, a local non profit encouraging people with disabilities to achieve their personal goals, he has seen loving, harmless, caring individuals have mental episodes.
“If those episodes occurred on the streets I wonder how the police would react,” he said
Botchway said he strives to support individuals negatively affected by cuts to mental health care at the state and federal levels. In the past, he said he has supported building an access center, doing crisis intervention training with the Iowa City Police Department and making sure the city council is supportive in ensuring that people are kept off the streets and are given the care they need.
“I believe that government should be a limited government,” Botchway said. “But I believe that, when there are areas of need or disproportionality, we need to step in to make sure we have the equity we need for folks that need the most.”
Botchway also hopes to continue to work towards making Iowa City more affordable.
“People have to make decisions on where they’re going to live sometimes based on affordability, and if we don’t have a lot of affordable housing then you don’t have a lot of choices on where to live, and that’s not okay,” Botchway said.
He pointed to two affordable housing-related issues he hopes to resolve as a member of the city council. First, he said, is the need to address the perception of affordable housing and fears people have.
“There’s the ‘Not in my backyard perspective,’” he said. “Not being from here, I have a totally different perspective of affordable housing and the positive things it can bring if you do it right.”
Second, he said, is the need to acknowledge the limited amount of space available in Iowa City. He said the council needs to find a way to infuse affordable housing into areas that don’t have it and make it part of everything the council does.
Another way to make Iowa City more affordable, Botchway said, is by supporting small businesses.
“Everybody has help,” he said. “That ‘pulled yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality, while it’s important and we want people to have that level of grit and perseverance within themselves, it also takes support.”
Botchway plans to find ways to bring people in the community together to form networks of support between small business owners and bankers. He also envisions implementing a micro lending program to help individuals get what they need to start their business and hopes to support entrepreneurial centers focused on people of color and women. He said the council has already allocated $25,000 toward entrepreneurial opportunities for people of color.
“The hope is, they will support our residents by better paying, stable jobs and an opportunity to live, work and play in the community. I don’t want people to have to go to Coralville or Cedar Rapids to work; I want people to be able to find amazing paying jobs in this community,” Botchway said.
“This is my home now, I’m not originally from here,” he said, “but I want to make sure that it’s truly a home for everybody who walks into Iowa City.”