[Note: This is the text of a speech (minus extemporaneous comments) I made on May 27, 2015, at Uptown Bill’s in Iowa City. The speech announced my candidacy for an at-large position on Iowa City’s City Council. Thirty to 35 people were present, and we shared a stimulating community conversation immediately after the speech.]
Thank you for coming here today. Your support has sustained me over the past 3 and ½ years, and your presence means a great deal to me. Thanks especially to Tom Gilsenan for allowing us to meet here.
Today I’m announcing my candidacy for an at-large position on the City Council, and I ask for your support.
With your help, we can build on what’s already great about Iowa City and lead it toward becoming a Just City, a place that’s good on the ground for all, both now and in the future.
When announcing my candidacy for City Council four years ago I said, “We are lucky to be living in a lovely city, but we will be facing some significant challenges over the coming years. I believe my combination of experience, knowledge, skills and vision can help us respond in a way that enables us to make it an even better place.”
Over the past 3 ½ years I’ve done my best to make sure your City government responds skillfully to the challenges we face. If you watch any Council meeting in person or on Cable Channel 4, you’ll see the work I’ve been doing to make sure that it does.
These efforts have contributed to some important improvements, especially with regard to reducing racial disparities and improving racial equity.
But to a great extent we Iowa Citians have also lost our way. We stand at a crossroads, conflicted over which direction we want to go in the coming years.
Two contending visions might guide the way.
One vision might be called “Boomtown.” Those who rely on this vision claim that cities like ours must compete with other cities, both near and far, to attract businesses and a “creative class” of Internet-savvy workers. Guided by a desire to expand the economy and increase the tax base, this Boomtown vision has been invigorating parts of our city in ways that many people like. And those who benefit most directly from this vision claim that all we need to do is stay the course. If it ain’t broke, they say, don’t fix it.
But for far too many Iowa Citians, our city is broken! For them, the Boomtown vision accommodates the interests of a few while ignoring those of the many. It’s rapidly changing the city they love into a place that will soon be unrecognizable. And by dramatically discounting the risks of climate change and the long-term value of biodiversity, it’s undermining our children’s prospects for a healthy future.
The second vision might be called the “Just City.”
Those who share this Just City vision believe that Iowa City should be good on the ground for all, both now and in the future, and that the long-term health of the community depends upon it.
The Just City vision would lead to a city that is substantively democratic, economically healthy, affordable, and resilient.
It would lead to a city in which all residents know in their bones and in their daily experience that City government works for them too.
It would lead to a city that nurtures and rewards creativity of all kinds.
It would be a unique place that residents love and visitors long to visit time and again.
The conflict between these visions has become increasingly acute over the past few years. Rather than keep replaying this conflict, as if we have learned nothing, we should turn the best of the Boomtown wealth, energy and creativity toward building a more Just City.
This turn toward the Just City calls for a City Council that’s willing to change course.
Most important, I believe the City Council should:
- Modify its official practices to be more open and responsive to all of the city’s residents,
- Adopt a much more fair and trustworthy process for using Tax Increment Financing,
- Invest City resources in ways that directly benefit people in the lower half of the income bracket, especially with regard to producing more housing that regular people can afford,
- Make greater progress toward improving racial equity and reducing racial disparities, especially throughout the criminal justice system,
- Invest in older core neighborhoods and strengthen our neighborhood schools,
- Treat the mitigation of climate change as a serious matter. This would include adopting a biodiversity management strategy that sustains all forms of life.
In brief, it is time for Iowa City to alter course. This new course will build on what is already great about our city.
And it will lead us toward becoming a Just City, the kind of place we’ve always claimed it to be.
Thank you. I’d be happy to elaborate on any of these points, and take any questions you might have.