Issues of affordable housing and discussions about creating an accessible, inclusive community took the forefront Monday evening as Mazahir Salih announced her candidacy for one of two Iowa City Council at-large seats in the 2017 election.
The room at the Robert A. Lee Community Recreation Center filled with the smell of spices emanating from the traditional Sudanese foods brought by Salih’s friends and members of the Sudanese American community to celebrate her announcement.
A group of supporters stood behind the podium facing the crowd as Ron Clark, co-founder of Riverside Theatre, and Jesse Case, of Teamsters Local 238, introduced Salih. Clark praised Salih as an advocate for immigrant rights, affordable housing and a leader in the battle to establish a livable minimum wage. Case, who worked with her over several years said he has seen her unite immigrants and native Iowans.
“She is the community, a bridge builder, unifier,” Case said. “She links the community under one common goal: to make Iowa City live up to its full potential.”
When Salih took the podium to speak, she said she hopes to find creative solutions to affordable housing and other challenges in the community, drawing on her experience as president of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.
Since coming to America with a civil engineering degree, she has worked at McDonald’s, in customer service and in various factories. In addition to serving as the Center for Worker Justice’s current president, Salih has worked on the Iowa Valley Global Food Project and served on the Iowa City Police Review Board since 2013.
“All this experience helped me to understand the challenges we will face,” she said. “I have been bringing people together for the past several years. I am passionate about this and I know the hard work it takes.”
Maysara Saeed, an Iowa City resident, praised Salih’s drive and passion.
“That’s what I love about her — she keeps fighting, and never gives up,” Saeed said.
Salih, a mother of five, moved to Iowa City from Virginia five years ago to study while raising her family with her husband.
“I planned to come to Iowa City for two years to study and then leave, but after I was here I found out this is my home that I was looking for,” she said.
She said she felt isolated in Virginia and in fifteen years she never got to know any locals, whereas in Iowa she has many Iowa-born friends and feels that she can interact with everyone.
Many in the diverse crowd that came to support Salih called her a bridge-builder, connecting immigrant populations with the government.
Imad Hamed, a political and social activist, said he is supporting Salih because, “she represents a broad spectrum of people with different experiences.”
Badri Kuku spoke about the impact Salih has already had on the community, including bringing people together at the Center for Worker Justice to help fight for the minimum wage and create solutions for more affordable housing.
“In order to help the city officially she needs to be in office for her voice to be counted, to fight for those who don’t have a voice,” Kuku said.
Iowa City Council Member Rockne Cole was in attendance. He said that Salih’s announcement, coming the same day as President Trump’s revised travel ban is a fitting way to show that “we welcome immigrants to settle in Iowa City and make it their home.”
Following the official announcement speeches, as attendees continued to mingle and chatter, Mohamed Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant, strummed Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” on his guitar.
Mohamed said Salih is like a sister to him and he came to support her decision to run for city council. He said he lived with her brother for a week in Virginia, and Salih supports him, calling to make sure he is doing okay being in America now as an immigrant for five years.
In her speech, Salih recollected when she first moved to Iowa City and sought help from a man to find out where to bring her water deposit.
“He said follow me, and he showed me the way,” she said. “I am running now because I want to show this community, as a member, the way.”