Main photo: Several attendees gather for post-event photo. (left to right) Bridget Saffold, Rev. Ed Loggins, Theresa Greenfield, Le Chelle Oliver, Warren Wortham, Nilvia Reyes Rodriguez, Rev. Abraham Funchess, Terrance Hollingsworth, Rachelle Chase, Bob Niemeyer, and Damien McMullen (kneeling).
Theresa Greenfield was the only candidate on Saturday to attend the first-ever Empower Northend 2020 Candidate Forum in Waterloo, a meaningful event for Black Iowans in the community who said they never had a U.S. Senate candidate attend an event specifically geared toward them.
I was fortunate to be a moderator at what likely was a historic event.
“To my knowledge, we’ve never had a tier one or Senate nominee come directly into the Black community, be willing to host a forum or sit down and talk to people in the community,” event organizer Terrance Hollingsworth said. “Oftentimes, you’ll hear these candidates go, ‘I’ve toured all 99 counties’ and you’ve come to Waterloo, but you don’t mean that you’ve been to the east side of Waterloo.”
Bridget Saffold, a nurse and founder of Focus on Diabetes, wiped everything down beforehand with disinfectant wipes. She also took temperatures and insured all of those who attended the event wore masks.
She agreed with Hollingsworth. The whole election cycle has been different than past years. She remembers Elizabeth Warren being active in the Black community, as was Cory Booker, whose campaign office was in the area.
“But I cannot think of one time where [Iowa] senator candidates have come to the neighborhood,” Saffold added.
Hollingsworth said he invited 1st District candidates Ashley Hinson and Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer to do one event and Sen. Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield to do the other.
Greenfield is the only candidate who showed up.
Greenfield’s participation does not surprise Hollingsworth since Greenfield has engaged with the local Black community previously. She came to Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes and toured the Black community, Los Reyes, and other communities, getting out and talking to people. Then earlier this month she helped sponsor financially all five neighborhoods that hosted National Night Out parties.
Still, Hollingsworth is disappointed that other candidates haven’t made Black people in Waterloo a priority.
Todd Obedale, co-chair of Black Hawk County Republican Party, attended primarily to support his friend, Hollingsworth.
“I’m supporting Joni Ernst. I like Joni Ernst as a senator and I like her as a person,” Obedale said. “I very much wanted her to come to Waterloo. I’m always wanting her to come to Waterloo-Cedar Valley. But her scheduling staff had her at another location.”
Obedale wanted Ernst to come because he wanted to see a debate. Instead, “this was an opportunity for Theresa Greenfield to meet with supporters. Largely, she didn’t receive any challenges to any of the assertions made regarding her proposed policies and benefits from them and there was no opportunity for rebuttal, which obviously the senator would have been able to do had she been there.”
Why didn’t he challenge Greenfield’s answers?
“I am grateful when candidates come out to events,” Obedale said. “And again, no candidate can be in two places at one time. I don’t believe these forums should be ‘gotcha’ moments for individuals or people to lay in wait.”
Greenfield answered questions on various topics, including supporting the LGBTQI community, immigration reform, social security, neighborhood redevelopment, health care and economic inclusion. Greenfield also shared her views on topics such as systemic racism, which she agrees exists and will help combat.
One of the moderators, Rev. Abraham Funchess, pastor of Jubilee UMC Freedom Center and executive director of Waterloo Commission on Human Rights, emphasized what was special and memorable about this forum.
“We had a conversation about economic inclusion on the northeast side of town … While some people would like to continue to emphasize social justice issues, and rightfully so, I thought what was different about this conversation with Greenfield was that we were talking about economic inclusion issues, which rarely gets the kind of attention that we think it deserves,” Funchess said.
Nilvia Reyes Rodriguez, vice president of DREAM Iowa and another moderator, detailed how immigrants in Iowa have revitalized many communities and built local economies. Rodriguez asked Greenfield if she supported bills like H.R.6, the American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the U.S. House last year, along with other bills supporting comprehensive immigration reform.
“I do believe that we need to modernize our immigration system and to have comprehensive immigration reform,” Greenfield said, adding it is one of the topics she hears most about. Greenfield likes some of the ideas of a bipartisan group called Iowa Compact on Immigration, but added, “I’m not saying that’s exclusively what I would do.” She also believes in modernizing the whole system, starting with visa reform and streamlining the path to becoming a citizen.
“Second, we have to be safe, absolutely. But we can be safe, we can be strong, and we can be smart. And to me, we have to look at our ports of entry in particular … and finally, it has to be humane, we have to keep our families together,” Greenfield added. “So, when it comes to our Dreamers, absolutely, we have to make sure they have their path to citizenship and it can’t be taken away. We have to codify it.”
Did she answer Rodriguez’s question?
“For someone that hasn’t been in that position yet, I feel like she’s very poised and educated and I think she answered my questions, pretty well, as best that she could,” Rodriguez said. “You know, she’s not familiar with all the bills that I was referencing or that any senator would be able to reference. But for not having that as specific of information available, I think she did a good job of answering my questions.”
So great of Theresa Greenfield to attend the Empower Northend 2020 Candidate Forum in Waterloo today and answer our questions plus stick around for more questions after. Thank you, @GreenfieldIowa! pic.twitter.com/JQO9QUxFL8
— Rachelle Chase (@Rachelle_Chase) October 17, 2020
Rev. Ed Loggins, a veteran who served in the Marines during Vietnam, wanted to know what Greenfield would do to support veterans.
Greenfield stated she wants to keep Americans safe in the U.S. and abroad, as well as keep promises to veterans, whether it’s the GI bill, health care or mental health services, and address jobs for veterans and helping them transition to a livable wage.
“What I believe is that if you served your country, whether it was in combat or not, basically all of the services are afforded us should be free,” Loggins said. “And the reason I say that is because you’ve served your country. In many cases, many men, especially Black men, have lost their lives or have come back injured.”
He followed that question with, “Can I be in your next ad?” which was met with chuckles from the audience. “You guys are laughing, but I’m serious,” he said. Greenfield said her campaign would reach out to him if they do another ad.
“How many black people have you seen?” Loggins said, of the lack of diversity in Iowa’s political ads. “I’m looking at all of these ads, all directed at farmers, people that live in small towns. The same issues that she’s talking about, those issues affect us. We may not be a large percentage of the voting block, but we’re not invisible. So take us under consideration.”
While answering Loggins’ question, Greenfield mentioned tele-health.
“One of the things I think this administration did well in COVID was they expanded tele-healthcare.” She emphasized the need to expand this to veterans, since VA hospitals aren’t in every county.
This got Saffold thinking about the the digital divide in Iowa and across the country.
“And then just putting those two things together, the idea of, if we do not have the digital access, the high speed internet in low income communities, how do you think we are able to bridge the health care gap with this tele-medicine when we don’t even have the technology to use it?” Saffold questioned. “Politicians or legislators feel like they fixed one thing but we don’t always go back, those unintended consequences are not addressed.”
Greenfield has said she wants to address high speed internet access for all Iowans, rural and urban.
“I loved it,” Le Chelle Oliver said of the event.
Oliver is a medical assistant at Mercy One who also helped with attendee check-in.
“She talked on everything I felt that needed to be addressed — about the race, about the health care system and her views on it, and how Black and brown people basically don’t have the same rights,” Oliver said. “There’s a disconnect there. And I totally agreed with her on that and how she would like to bridge that, be the one to help bridge that and I’m with that.”
The entire forum can be viewed on the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Facebook page.
By Rachelle Chase
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