Updated: Nov 16
Councilor's blog, Stardate 1102.22. A small blue collar city has just elected 3 new members to represent them on their city council, upsetting two incumbants including the longtime Mayor of West Liberty. History is made as Katie McCullough assumes the position of Mayor-Elect, West Liberty's first female mayor, and both Omar Martinez and Dana Dominguez prepare to serve a majority-Latinx city council for the first time ever. It appears that not only is this a first for the city, but the first for the state of Iowa; a fitting crown for the first minority-majority city in the state that also made history years ago.
Welcome to my blog.
Hi. Welcome to my blog. Fair warning, I'm a dork - as you can probably guess from my random Star Trek reference above that will most likely begin all of my entries. #sorrynotsorry Anyone who knows me will tell you that I've always been "odd". It took awhile for me to agree, but now, at the ripe age of 40, I can proudly say that I've learned to love that part of me. Sometimes people try to remind me to "check into reality" or, "get out of the clouds" or, my favorite-"you're such a dreamer, Dana...everything isn't always rainbows and butterflies...", and they are good reminders that are needed from time to time. Yet, somehow in someway, my dorkiness and nerdpowers spark enough curiousity and creativety to make me do something unexpected.
Getting the call.
So when councilmember Zacarias called me one morning and told me he needed some Latinos to run for council, I'm not going to lie I had already made up my mind that I was going to do it before I hung up the phone and told my fiance, Paul what he said. I don't remember specifically how Paul reacted, but I do remember it being a fairly short debate, and maybe I faked an ounce of hesitation on my part? Evenso, it was only a matter of minutes before I picked up the phone and called my best friend, Katie. The conversation went something like this.
"Hey Katie. Jose Zacarias just called me, and he asked if I knew of any Latinos who would want to run for City Council. I guess there are two spots available."
Of course, Katie said, "DO IT!" before I could even finish. I had half-hoped that she would say, I'll run with you! but I guess that wasn't in the cards, because as soon as I said, "Oh, and I guess the Mayor isn't running for re-election. So there will be a spot open for Mayor," she didn't even hesitate.
"I'll be the mayor!"
And that's how it all started.
Fast forward to election night- myself, Omar, Katie, Paul, and a few of Katie's friends are all sitting around her table eating well and laughing as was always our M.O. when we got together. That was never hard. Katie's phone rang and things got really quiet. Then in a high-pitched tone, she says, "Sure! We are all here eating. Just come on over!". She hangs up and cracks a smile. "That was Jose...he's coming over." "Awww shit." someone grumbled under their breath.
There were mixed feelings about councilmember Zacarias among the people at the house that night. I won't go into details on the why and who, but I for one will admit that I was excited for Jose to come over. We didn't know each other well, but I did respect him for serving the community in various capacities, and of course, owed it to him for introducing me to the idea of running for council that year.
The polls closed at 7pm and from then it was a waiting game.
When Jose arrived he was dressed well per usual in a v-neck sweater and khaki pants. He quietly greeted everyone and sat down to have a hot meal. Music was playing and several different conversations were happening all at once. I don't remember speaking to him at all. In fact, he sat there quietly with his arms crossed most of the evening.
Paul was our watcher, meaning, his eyes were glued to the county auditor's website, waiting for results to be posted online. Anyone who knows Paul will tell you that he is one of the most dedicated individuals you will ever meet if given a particular task. He was on a mission to be the first to know the results and made it his duty to not miss a beat.
As the night grew on it was easy to forget why we were there. Katie was such an incredible host and between her and the others who were present, it was like an all night comedy special. Looking back on that night, I have yet to experience again the same feeling of high, positive energy and such joy and laughter. I hadn't felt that kind of spirit in the air for a very long time - and it was so easy to just 'be'. It made all of our nerves that we had talked about after voting come to a pause, so much that, by the end of the night, whether we won or lost, it didn't matter. This experience was one that made almost- strangers who had become neighbors, become friends, which ultimately with between Katie and me, felt more like a sisterhood when it was all said and done.
So there we all were.
It was loud and we were laughing at the latest hilarious comment in unison when voice sliced through the air like a hot knife.
"You won," it said.
With the latest reminence of the smile caused by laughter still posted up on Katie's face, she turned to Paul in disbelief. "What?"
"You WON." Paul said a little louder, still looking at the cellphone as if it was going to change what he saw if he looked away.
"Who? Me?" Katie gasped in a high pitched voice of disbelief.
"ALL of YOU". All THREE of YOU. Paul confirmed, now standing up with the biggest smile on his face.
"Oh, my God!"Katie shreeked, followed by the rest of the group throwing up their arms and standing up to cheer. She grabbed her cellphone and searched for the website, still unable to believe her ears.
"Look", paul said, walking around the table and holding up his screen. "You blew them out of the water!"
And he was right. Katie and I together had 212 and 210 votes. That meant over 200 people believed in us. For Omar and our friend, Vanessa, who also ran but was not able to come over that night, they had 159 and 152 votes, only a 7 vote difference. The other three candidates were not even close. Ironically, it wasn't until months later that I found out that I wasn't the only one who didn't vote for myself that day at the polls. To choose between Omar and Vanessa was too hard for me. I convinced myself that if I lost by 1 vote, at least I knew who to blame. At a special council meeting months later when we had to appoint a new member after the resignation of Diane Beranek, Omar admitted that he voted for me and Vanessa, causing me to gasp on record, loudly. Imagine, two sitting council members who didn't vote for themselves out of the sheer selflessness of not wanting to be the cause of another person losing the same opportunity we wanted. Imagine if our state and federal government officials acted in such a way? This is something I think about often.
"So what do we do now?"
So back to that night. I can't tell you more of what I was doing or how i reacted because for me it's a blur, but I do remember the moment when I let Katie know that she was going to be our first female mayor, and I'm grateful to have shared the moment with her as she lifted up her hand and cupped it over her mouth as her chin trembled and her tears of joy began to fall. Yes, there were lots of hugs. There were a lot of phone calls. There were tears, and happiness - and once we got over the disbelief and the excitement and the noise came to a quiet hum. In an awkward but very Omar way, he stood up, looked swung his arms up and shrugged his shoulders as he looked at Katie and me and said,
"So...now what do we do?"
The silence broke once more into raging laughter. Katie, still teary-eyed but smiling ear-to-ear says, "I have no clue, dude!" Causing the laughter to boom once more.
All in all, it was good night. We didn't understand then, all that would come from being a West Liberty Councilmember, and Katie didn't know what she would endure as our first female mayor in the next few months. But, we knew we were in this together. We would figure it out, together.
And we tried. Yes, we tried hard. But that's a story for another time.
One year later.
So in closing of this "councilor's bLog", I will say this.
My first year (and 9 days to be exact) since that night, was no picnic. It's still hard and has had a lot of heartbreaking moments for not only the councilmembers, and the staff, and our Mayor, but our families have suffered as well. Let me be clear, never do I intend to discourage anyone from running for office by sharing the details (as much as I can, anyway) of those hard moments; that's not what these blogs are for. It's not to complain or heed warning or bad mouth anyone who I feel may have caused me or anyone else that heartbreak, either. It is just another small thing that I can do to better prepare that next generation of leaders.
It's a chance to inspire in the most authentic way, by allowing others to learn from my experiences and the mistakes that were made along the way.
So my first piece of advice is that one can forget very quickly what it felt like on election night when we were were not trying to fix all of the city's problems, but just trying to do something good. I hope that all of the future public servants who are reading this will remember to hold on to that moment when it happens. Hold on to it, document it, film it, just cherish it; and when times get tough, go back to it with the hopes that it will give you back that fire you need and that joy you had to serve your city. It's an honor - even through the hard times - that can't be taken for granted.
Until next time,