By Naomi Hofferber
It’s local election year once again, and one woman strives to bring her voice and advocacy to a City Council position.
Mazahir Salih moved to Virginia from Sudan 20 years ago with a degree in civil engineering. She quickly began to build both a family and a career in community involvement.
“Her first big project while she was in Alexandria was saving a bus program that was allowing low-income families to send their kids on to Head Start program,” campaign manager Shawn Harmsen said. “It was the first taste of what it was like to do that; she brought together families, the School District, and some other people in the city and found a solution, and these families could keep sending their kids to Head Start.”
Salih came to Iowa in 2011 and began working to benefit the community. Harmsen said one of her large projects in community activism was helping found the Center for Worker Justice, of which she is now the organizer for.
“Have you seen those signs that say ‘We pay 10.10’? That’s her and her job,” Harmsen said. “That’s her passion: helping people that need help. It defines her character.”
Salih aims to advocate for workers through a position on the City Council. She also believes in community engagement to benefit the community and its members.
“As soon as I started meeting people like low-wage workers and people with all different levels of education here for the Center for Worker Justice, I found there was a gap, a really big gap,” Salih said. “And I saw I could bridge this gap. Because I talk to low-wage workers, and I know what their issues are. That’s why I decided to do this, to bridge this gap, and to connect those people, and bring them all to the City Council table.”
Salih said many of the people she talks to offer creative solutions to solve their issues, and she hopes to bring all voices to the council. Her campaign is focused on advocating for increased public transportation, economic development for all, and affordable housing.
“It’s so wonderful to find someone who is authentic and someone who wants to get into politics who is authentic,” Harmsen said. “You see a lot who are there for their own benefit or their own ego trip, and then you come across the people who just want to get into politics because they want to be a public servant … Mazahir’s very authentic and competent and capable.”
“I love our community, but it’s not perfect,” Salih said. “We have members of the community who contribute to the overall health of the community but still are struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families. We have a community that is great to live in, but for too many, it is expensive to rent or buy a house.”
UI student Apoorva Raikwar believes Salih will make a good councilor because of her ability to listen to the issues of individuals.
“I have complete faith that she will listen and advocate for individuals of every background, and that’s a lot due to her personal background,” Raikwar said. “It’s super inspiring to see a woman of color, a fellow immigrant of 20 years — I’ve also just celebrated living in America for 20 years, my family did — running for City Council. There’s not always a ton of role models for me.”
The City Council election will come to a head on Nov. 7.
“This is about all of us, because this is our city,” Salih said.