On Thursday, Democrat Royceann Porter became the first declared candidate in the special election to fill the remainder of Kurt Friese’s term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. If she wins, Porter would be the first black person elected to a county-wide office in Johnson County history.
Friese died on Oct. 26, and on Nov. 8, a committee of three county officials — the auditor, the recorder and the treasurer — scheduled a special election to fill the vacancy his death created. Porter announced her candidacy in a Facebook post later that day.
“Kurt Friese was my friend. Kurt was amazing,” Porter told Little Village. “Just before he died, we did the Johnson County Democratic Party Barbecue together. Kurt did the meat — pulled pork — and I did all the sides. We fed 200 people. It was awesome.”
“I was devastated when I heard he died,” she said.
Porter, a union organizer for the Teamsters, said she feels the Board of Supervisors has been doing a good job in recent years, and wants to help build on what it has accomplished.
“I’ve stood with them on issues like minimum wage and affordable housing, and I want to keep Johnson County moving in the right direction,” Porter said. “I think the board is doing a good job of representing the people.”
In her letter to the delegates who will select the party’s nominee during the Johnson County Democratic Party’s convention on Nov. 20, Porter discussed the background and experiences she would bring to the board.
“I moved to rural Iowa nearly thirty years ago and later chose to make Johnson County my home because of all it has to offer,” Porter wrote. “I’ve since experienced first-hand both the incredible opportunities and the numerous challenges and barriers newcomers — especially families of color — often encounter when joining our growing, increasingly diverse community. As a result, I’ve dedicated my life to building a community that supports all residents no matter where they are from, what their income is, or what level of education they have when they arrive.”
Porter has served on the Iowa City Community Police Review Board and the steering committee of the Iowa City Coalition for Racial Justice. She has worked as a juvenile court liaison, and served on the Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee and the Juvenile Justice Youth Development Policy Board. Porter also has experience with youth issues outside the justice system, having worked with the Iowa City Community School District’s Equity Committee, African American Parents’ Group and M.L. King Teachers In-Service Planning Committee.
Porter has been involved with many community-based organizations, and helped found both the Black Voices Project, which helps black citizens participate in community life, and the Family2Family Program, which matches families new to the Iowa City area with ones already established here.
In 2007, Porter’s work in the community was recognized by the Iowa City Human Rights Commission with the Isabel Turner Award. She also received a Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement award from Gov. Terry Branstad in 2014.
Porter held a formal kick-off to her campaign in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library on Friday evening, at which she was introduced by Iowa City Council member Mazahir Salih.
“This community is really changing,” Salih said. She added, “We have a lot of people from different backgrounds, that’s why we need different people from different backgrounds in different offices.”
“I believe that my experience in the community of helping individuals and families, of being active in racial and worker coalitions, of participating in programs that serve minorities and having good relationships with city and county staff, all make me uniquely able to resolve issues of racial inequity,” Porter told the audience at the library.
“Embracing the diversity of Iowa City by engaging with the whole community is my passion. It is who I am.”
This is Porter’s second bid for public office. In 2013, Porter ran for the District B seat on the Iowa City Council. She won 40 percent of the vote, losing to Terry Dickens.
A second Democrat, Pat Harney, announced this week he’s running for the party nomination. Harney served on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for 16 years, before deciding to retire in 2016, at the age of 74. That year, Kurt Friese was elected to the open seat created by Harney’s retirement.
The special election for the Board of Supervisors will be held on Dec. 18.