Ohio University alumna and current Athens resident Iris Virjee announced plans to focus on local issues by running for an at-large seat on Athens City Council after being encouraged by fellow candidate Damon Krane.
Virjee formally made her announcement on her campaign Facebook page May 11. She is entering the race as an independent candidate with no previous political experience. Her motivations for running are largely focused on the socioeconomic changes Athens has experienced throughout the past year as well as the lack of representation for a variety of groups in Council, she said.
“That (running for Council) was a tough decision, because I had a lot of concerns and anxieties regarding my ability to do it, and how much time it would take considering that I have a job and I also have a disability,” Virjee said.
As part of her campaign, Virjee is focusing on three main issues: parking enforcement, low-income housing and changes to policing within the city, she said.
She wants to take a look at the parking enforcement especially with regard to lower-income neighborhoods in the city, she said. She believes the enforcement of parking ordinances has been predatory towards these low-income areas in the past.
“I support Iris running because I think her running is a good thing for the city, and I think her being elected could be a really good thing for the city, but she doesn't owe me any favors for thinking that,” Krane said. “So, there's no kind of deal between us in that regard, she's very much going to run her own campaign in her own way. And we'll see how that all unfolds.”
Krane said he reached out to around 100 people, encouraging them to run and offering to talk with them about the process. He focused on those who could help bring representation to under-represented groups in the community, he said.
Virjee is also focusing on source of income discrimination by landlords, a housing issue that is currently making its way through Council. She said that she believes this issue is very important, given that struggles to pay rent have only been exacerbated by the obstacles of the past year.
The final issue that Virjee is currently focusing on is a partnership with a crisis intervention to work in conjunction with the police department.
“That, to me, involves behavioral and mental crisis, as well as drug use, as well as homelessness, and things like that,” Virjee said. “It's a common occurrence here that people who are struggling with a personal crisis of some sort or another might cause concern to neighbors or other people, and there's no one to safely help them and get them the resources that they need. While that, of course, is dangerous to them, it's also taking up time from the police that could be better spent elsewhere.”
Krane said he believes this is a good idea and that it is related to some of the work Athens County Copwatch did last summer. He said similar systems to Virjee’s idea have been implemented in other cities.
“In reality, there's a lot of public safety issues, a lot of law enforcement issues that you know you don't need someone with a gun to handle,” Krane said. “Most likely somebody with substantial weaponry and that kind of training may not be the best person to be handling that.” Krane said.
Virjee said the process of beginning and running her campaign has been nerve-wracking, but she is looking forward to continuing to talk with voters.
“Ultimately, I am who I am and that, I hope, will make me relatable and approachable to voters who have struggled with finding someone to represent them in the past,” Virjee said.