The 2017 elections brought a historic win, a surge of write-in votes, a mayoral runoff and more to Johnson and Linn counties

Mazahir Salih celebrates with her family as the final election results come in at The Mill. Tuesday, November 7, 2017. –photo by Zak Neumann

The morning after winning a seat on the Iowa City Council, Mazahir Salih was up early working to support one of the causes she believes in. She testified before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on community IDs, even though she’d barely had any sleep.

“News people had been calling me all night,” Salih told Little Village. That’s not surprising. Salih’s decisive win in her race for an open city council at-large seat was featured in news stories about the numerous progressive electoral victories across the nation on Nov. 7, because Salih is reportedly the first Sudanese-American woman elected to office in the United States.

That Salih wasn’t taking a day off following an intense, eight month-long campaign also wasn’t surprising, according to Charlie Eastham, who served as the treasurer for Salih’s campaign.

“I’ve known Mazahir for over five years,” said Eastham, a prominent human rights activist in Iowa City for four decades. “I’ve known her as a very diligent, hardworking community organizer and very effective in her work. She is both fearless and very pleasant.”

Salih’s background as a community organizer — along with Eastham, she was part of the group that organized the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa in 2012, and has served as the center’s president—prepared her for many aspects of campaigning, but not all.

“It was really hard for me to ask money for myself. It wasn’t normal, you know?” Salih said. “I’ve asked for money for organizations before, but never for myself.”

Salih said the campaign’s original fundraising goal was $7,000. Her campaign ended up raising more than twice that amount, despite the $100 limit on contributions in city elections in Iowa City.

“It was an almost unprecedented amount,” Eastham said. “It’s a reflection of the number of people who know her and understand what Mazahir stands for, campaigned for and lives out in her life.”

Salih said the three issues she stressed in her campaign — affordable housing, improved public transportation and economic development that helps everyone — will be her primary focus at first.

“I’m trying to prepare myself now, talking to people who really have experience with these issues,” Salih said. “So we can find some ideas to put before the council when I take my seat in January.”

Fast facts about the Nov. 7 election

1. Big cities, small turnout. Only 15.5 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Iowa City. In Linn County, the auditor’s office had predicted a turnout of approximately 30 percent for Cedar Rapids, but just 20.38 percent of the city’s voters exercised their franchise. Some smaller communities, like Oxford in Johnson County (44 percent turnout), did much better.

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2. Linn loves libraries. Voters in two Linn County cities, Hiawatha and Center Point, approved funding proposals for their libraries. It was a different story in Tiffin, the only Johnson County city with a similar measure on the ballot. Voters there rejected a new tax levy for the library, 59 percent to 41 percent.

3. “Unopposed” doesn’t mean no one opposes you. Candidates for mayor in seven Johnson County cities — Coralville, Hills, North Liberty, Oxford, Shueyville, Tiffin and University Heights — ran unopposed. Officially, at least. Write-in votes for other candidates hit the double digits in each of those races. Write-in votes accounted for more than 30 percent of votes cast for mayor in Shueyville.

4. The election that almost wasn’t (part one). No one filed to run for one of the open city council seats in Linn County’s Prairieburg (pop. 181). Faced with a blank space on the ballot, 40 voters (35 percent of the city’s 114 registered voters) wrote in a candidate. Sandy Marsh won the race, with 23 votes.

5. The election that almost wasn’t (part two). North Liberty had the most disappointing turnout numbers. Only 547 people bothered to vote. That’s just 4.9 percent of the city’s registered voters.

6. Take two. The Cedar Rapids mayoral election will be decided in a runoff vote on Dec. 5 between the top two candidates, Monica Vernon and Brad Hart. Fewer than 70 votes separated the candidate in second place, Hart, from the candidate in third place, Scott Olson.

Paul Brennan is a staff writer/editor at Little Village. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 232.