Iowa City Councilmember Mazahir Salih announced on Wednesday that she will not run for reelection. Salih, who was elected mayor pro tem by her fellow councilmembers in 2020, had told reporters earlier this year that she would run for the open seat in District B instead of seeking reelection to her current at-large seat. But in a written statement, Salih said she changed her mind because of her new role as the executive director of the Center for Workers Justice of Eastern Iowa (CWJ).
“As a co-founder of CWJ, I’m proud to devote my full energies to leading the organization in its work to confront workplace abuses, promote dignity in jobs and housing, and create an inclusive community,” Salih said in a written statement announcing her decision. “As much as I knew I had to focus on my new position at CWJ and family demands, I agonized about stepping down from the council because of all of the work there is to do.”
Salih had served as interim director of the Iowa City-based nonprofit for a year, before being selected as executive director by the search committee tasked with finding a new full-time leader for the center.
Salih’s election to the Iowa City Council in 2017 attracted national attention, as she became the first Sudanese-American immigrant to be elected to any office in the United States. It was Salih’s first run for office.
“When I went on to the council four years ago I had already spent years working on behalf of workers, immigrants, people of color, and helping to give a voice to those who weren’t being heard in the community,” Salih said. “I could never have anticipated how important that experience would prove to be, given the events that unfolded during my time on the Council.”
In her statement, Salih listed the work she is most proud of during her tenure, including raising the wages of city employees to $15 an hour, improving and expanding public transportation, pushing for more affordable housing, and working to ensure the city publishes information translated into the various languages spoken by the community, and provides interpreters so immigrants can have ready access to municipal services.
Salih in her statement on Wednesday endorsed Shawn Harmsen for the District B council seat that will be open in the November election following the decision of Susan Mims not to seek reelection.
“When I realized Shawn was interested in running, it was a huge relief,” she said. “Shawn is one of the most principled community leaders I know. For years, he has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote leadership of women and people of color in our community.”
Harmsen, who teaches in the Communications Studies Department at Coe College, has long been active in Iowa City politics. He was Salih’s campaign manager in 2017, as well as campaign manager for Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, the first Black candidate elected to countywide office in Johnson County.
“I worked with Shawn before I was in office, I worked with Shawn while I was on the council, and I will continue working with Shawn after he is on the council to keep making our community better,” Salih said.
In the same statement, Harmsen said, “Mazahir is a powerful leader who leaves behind enormous shoes to fill. Nobody can really replace what having her on the council has meant for Iowa City. But I can do my best to continue enacting our shared vision for a community that lives up to its potential for economic, racial, and social justice.”
Salih was scheduled to appear with Harmsen at the kick-off event for his campaign in Mercer Park at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening.