As I sat squeezed into a booth at The Mill one evening in April, I participated in — mostly listened to — a conversation between a local nonprofit arts director and a dear friend, a woman who moved to Iowa City at a young age and, like me, left and boomeranged home. They spoke that night of cusping: of a community doing well that is at the point, at the cusp, of becoming great.
Iowa City is a place that prides itself on its progressive ideals, its cultural breadth, its thoughtful citizenry. We do many things well, and Iowa City works well for me. While I have come from my own set of personal challenges — housing insecurity, incarceration in the family, major thoracic surgeries in adolescence, too much death in a very short time — the reality is, I have much privilege as a white, cis, straight, educated, able-bodied, employed, insured, middle-class resident. But we need to work harder to provide access to the abundant good in our community to everyone.
So how do we get from here to there, past the cusp? To begin:
• Affordable housing and concentrated poverty. We have a supply problem in Iowa City that requires action from both the public sector and our private sector partners. Part of this plan requires increasing density, expanding inclusionary zoning in new developments, and improving non-car transportation options.
• Increase wages for city workers. The state gutted our ability to require more of employers, but it did not take away our ability to model best practices. By referencing respected reports like The Iowa Policy Project’s Cost of Living in Iowa, we can create a model employer at city hall that pays a living wage, provides necessary benefits, and requires businesses doing work on behalf of the city to meet those same high standards.
• Small business support. We have a vibrant Downtown and Northside because of our fantastic small local businesses. They tell me about barriers to entering the marketplace. To maintain and expand Iowa City’s unique character requires policies that favor community business owners over corporate competitors.
I have chosen this place as home. I’ve studied law. I’ve studied city planning. I’ve studied music. I’ve analyzed and recommend policies to support Iowa’s working families. I’ve worked on behalf of students at our public secondary and higher education institutions for most of my adult life. I write for pleasure and read obsessively. I support small business in word and deed. I shop locally. I eat locally.
But none of these things alone should earn your vote.
I am uncompromising in my search for honest, creative solutions to the problems our community faces. “It is too hard,” is a challenge, not a response. And so, when facing complicated, intersectional issues like raising wages for city workers, I won’t accept at face value that we cannot afford it. I will ask about other revenue sources, about what we as a community value and how we prioritize it, about what it means to be a good member of our community. Only then do we decide.
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I don’t want to win your vote. I want to earn your vote. Before September 4, ask me your questions and share your concerns. I will be candid about what I believe is right for our great community, and also open to learning from you. I don’t know everything. I am not always right. I am, however, intellectually curious, equity-focused and knowledgeable about how cities work. Iowa City and its people have shaped me. Now, with this campaign, I offer myself in service to this place I love.
• Christine Ralston is a candidate in the Iowa City Council September 4 primary.