New Iowa City council member makes national history - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New Iowa City council member makes national history

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

A woman elected to the Iowa City City Council is believed to be the first person to hold a public office from the country she immigrated from.

On November 8, 2016, Mazahir Salih was elected to the Iowa City City Council. On Friday, December 29, she took the oath of office before she took part in her first council meeting on January 2. Salih is believed to be the country's first Sudanese immigrant elected to a public office, according to the Sudanese American Public Affairs Association.

From at first standing in front of city council to now sitting behind it, Salih has worked to represent those in the community long before she ran for office.

Salih was a founding member of the Eastern Iowa Center for Worker Justice group which empowers low-income workers.  She worked tirelessly to get commitment from what was then 40 businesses in Johnson County, to now 150, to commit to keeping the minimum wage at $10.10 after the state rolled back minimum wage increases. There, they also recovered more than $60,000 in unpaid wages for workers. 

She said she didn't campaign to make history, but to bring the issues she's long fought for to the council.

"I want to focus really on my three issues I've been talking about, which is affordable housing and transportations and economic development for all," she said.

In 1997, Salih immigrated to the United States from Sudan where she was a civil engineer. She first lived in Virginia before she moved to Iowa City in 2011 in order to enroll in an electroencephalography brain wave testing program at the University of Iowa. Shortly after, she helped found CWJ.

"I came here for a better life, even though through the process I found out better life is not something laying there for the taking.  But better life is something that you have to fight for it, and you have to build it," Salih said.

Salih said she didn't know during her campaign that she was on pace to create history but has found a lot of support and excitement from those living in her home country of Sudan.

"Even though they are not maybe not going to benefit out of what I'm doing here, but at least this is really kind of help that we are Sudanese. We can do a lot. It doesn't matter where we are," Salih said.

While Salih hopes her position will help other Sudanese immigrants, it's helping the people living in Iowa City that is her first priority.

"[I hope] to make the city work for everyone, regardless if they're born here or they traveled half of the globe to come here just like me," she said.

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