‘We have work to do’: Laura Bergus and Janice Weiner officially join the Iowa City Council

Iowa City Councilmembers (l to r), Pauline Taylor, Janice Weiner, Mazahir Salih, Laura Bergus and Susan Mims. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The two newest members of Iowa City Council took their oaths of office in the council chamber on Thursday afternoon. Laura Bergus and Janice Weiner, both elected to at-large seats in November, were sworn in by City Clerk Kellie Fruehling.

For Bergus, it’s a new role in a familiar setting. Her first job as a teenager was televising council meetings for the city’s cable channel. While doing that, Bergus developed what she calls her “nerdy passion” for local government.

Bergus didn’t mention her high school job on Thursday in her brief remarks after signing the oath of office, during which she thanked the dozens of people who attended the swearing-in.

Laura Bergus takes the oath of office as a member of the Iowa City Council. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“I am so humbled and grateful to have the support of the city of Iowa City, my hometown, the place where I’ve lived my entire life,” Bergus said.

She said she was looking forward to working with Weiner and the other members of the council on behalf of the people of Iowa City.

Weiner also began her remarks by expressing gratitude to Iowa Citians.

“I am really both honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the city,” she began. “As I said during the campaign, I am a public servant at heart.”

Like Bergus, Weiner grew up in Iowa City. After graduating from high school, she attended Princeton University and Stanford Law School, before starting a career at the U.S. State Department. Weiner returned to Iowa City after a 27-year career in the Foreign Service.

Weiner said that although she is careful not mix religion with politics, on this occasion she wanted to acknowledge how her religious beliefs informed her “political and social justice passion.”

“We, as Jews, welcome immigrants and refugees, because we were once immigrants in a strange land,” she said. “I am proud to represent a city that strives to embody those values. We believe strongly in social justice.”

Janice Weiner takes the oath of office. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Weiner told the audience that she attended the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference in Chicago last week. The conference addressed issues of social and political importance such as the abolition of private prisons, addressing the opioid crisis, and studying and developing reparations for slavery and institutional racism in the United States.

“We have work to do at every level of government,” Weiner said. “Good work has been done here, there’s more to do.”

“I was reminded during that conference that voices multiplied can effect change. That determined individuals can make a real difference.”

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Now that Bergus and Weiner have joined the city council, five of its seven members are women. That’s the largest number of women ever to serve together on the Iowa City Council.

Editor’s note: An earlier verion of this story incorrectly stated that this was the first time women have made up a majority on the Iowa City Council. This is the first time since the council expanded to its current size of seven seats that the majority of members have been women.