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My Story

My name is Mazahir Salih,  I am originally from Khartoum, Sudan. I moved to Virginia in 1997 where I became a citizen, met and married my husband, and started a family. 


My incredibly supportive husband, my five kids, and I moved to Iowa City in 2011. When I came to town, my plan was to get my degree at Kirkwood as an EEG technician and return to Virginia. But once we got here, Iowa City became more than a place to study – it became our home. 


Like so many others, I came here for school and then fell in love with Iowa City. We knew this was where we wanted to settle down and raise our family.


What do we want in our elected leaders? I ask because I’m an improbable candidate.  I’m a Sudanese woman, an immigrant, I’m not what most political candidates look like. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Isn’t it more important to know what you stand for, and who you stand for?


Well, let me answer that question. Like many immigrants, I came looking for a better life, but I learned something important. I learned that a better life is not something you find, just lying there for the taking.

A better life is something you build.

I learned this when my children began going to school as a part of the local Head Start program where we lived in Virginia. The city government had cut funding to the bus program that took Head Start kids to school. Think about that, low-income children, immigrant children, children with special learning needs, the kids who needed the Head Start program the most, couldn’t get there!


A better life doesn’t just happen.  You have to build it.  You have to fight for it. So I joined other families in organizing our school district and the city government to restore bus funding so the kids who needed it the most, could get to their Head Start program. It was my first moment of really engaging as a citizen of my new country.  But it wasn’t my last.


When I came to Iowa City in 2011 it was to get my certificate as a medical technician, While I was working in getting my degree, I met with workers and immigrants who were being left out and left behind. I met people who were victims of wage theft and job discrimination; people who were treated unfairly and being pushed to the margins; people who weren’t being given a fair shot to build a better life.


So, I joined people from all over the community to help found the Center for Worker Justice in 2012. Since then I volunteered at CWJ, spent time as a President of the organization, on the staff as a full-time community organizer, and became the executive Director of the organization from May 2020- June 2023. Together, we at the Center for Worker Justice worked to help the people of Iowa City build better lives.

In 2015 we advocated to increase the minimum wage in Johnson County to $10.10/hour. When Republicans in Des Moines forced our community to lower its mandatory minimum wage back to 7.25, we kept fighting for our most vulnerable low-wage workers to maintain wages that would keep them from slipping into poverty. We built bridges between workers and ethical and decent businesses who committed to voluntarily keep paying at least 10.10 an hour. 


We helped develop a Community ID program, which for eight years now has helped local police and citizens build a safer community together.


We also help workers who have been victims of wage theft – bosses who refuse to pay them what they’ve earned. During my time at CWJ, we have helped workers recover over $200,000 worth of income that otherwise would have been lost.


We built bridges between everyone from low-wage workers to professors at the University. I started thinking about how I could work with even more people to build even more bridges as a member of the city council. I started talking with friends. I started talking with community leaders. I started talking with my family. All of these people kept telling me I should follow my instincts and my heart – that I could do even more good things for this community as a member of the council.


I was already building toward this decision, and after November 2016, I knew November 2017 was my time to step up, build bridges, and bring more people to the table of city government. So I ran for Iowa City Council in November 2017 to be elected as the first and only black woman to the Iowa City Council in 173 years. Moreover, I was the first Sudanese American to be elected to any office in the United States.  


I had the honor to serve as Mayor Pro Tem in 2020 and 2021 under the leadership of Mayor Teague. It was a period marked by significant challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the Derecho, and the Black Lives Matter movement. As Iowa City’s first black Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem, we give voice to citizens who have been historically underrepresented and we navigated these challenges with skill and care. I am proud of the substantial growth Iowa City experienced during my term and the many meaningful accomplishments we achieved for our community.  


After my term, I made the difficult decision not to seek re-election. My children were in middle school, needing my full attention during their critical years of development. I also took on the role of Executive Director at the Center for Worker Justice, advocating for the rights and well-being of low-wage workers and immigrant residents. It was a time of personal growth and dedication to causes that matter deeply to me.


Now, situations have changed, and I feel a call to return to public service. I love our community, we’ve made a lot of progress together, but there’s still work to be done.


We have low-wage members of our community who contribute to the overall health of our city but still struggle 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 too expensive to rent or buy housing.

We have a community with so much to offer – but some members of our community struggle to take part because they don’t have transportation.

The city council plays a huge role in making these things better. We need city council members who support economic development for all – economic development that prioritizes good jobs that pay a living wage over more low-wage jobs that leave people still struggling to make ends meet

We need council members who will make affordable housing a priority so that no one in our city, whether a retiree on a fixed income, parents providing a home for their children, or a young person just starting their career, is forced out of our community simply because they can’t afford to live here.

We need council members to work for better transportation to meet the needs of low-income workers - our immigrant communities – our students - and the older members of our community who no longer drive.

Our whole community wins when every member of the community has a way to show up, participate, and contribute, – when we can all take out seat at the table of city activities and city government. This is what I believe in and this is why I am running for city council. But I cannot do this alone. This is about all of us because whether you were born here or traveled halfway around the globe to be here, this is OUR city.  This is OUR home.

Together we can protect the things that make our city great, and improve the things that need fixing. And with our whole community at the table – and all of us pulling together – we can do amazing things.  

Thank you for visiting my website and learning more about me. By doing so we started building some bridges between you and I, and I hope you will walk with me and help me get elected on or before November 7th, 2023, and keep on walking with me as we bring everyone to the table for years to come. 

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