We recently had the great pleasure of interviewing our friend Stacey Walker as he announced his campaign for District Supervisor for Linn County. A true difference maker, Stacey has had a big impact in everything he has done. Before we get into the interview, here’s a quick rundown of the impressive Stacey Walker:
Born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Stacey Walker feels a personal commitment to make Linn County a safe, healthy and prosperous place for all of its families.
A product of public schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cedar Rapids, Stacy understands firsthand how government, non-profits and businesses can collaborate to foster opportunities for all children.
In 2010, he helped launch the LBA Foundation; a Cedar Rapids non-profit that works to keep school-aged kids on track to graduate. He then assisted AOL Founder Steve Case in his efforts to reinvigorate America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through the philanthropic non-profit Case Foundation, which invests in people and ideas that can change the world.
Most recently Stacey helped execute on growth and development strategy for Hawkeye Hotels and Patel Endeavors, companies that operate nearly one hundred hotels across the country with additional investments in Iowa-based startups.
Currently Stacey serves as the Chair of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional partnership formed to address systemic poverty and gun violence across Linn County.
Stacey graduated from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids and earned his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Iowa in 2010.
We’re sure you get asked this a lot, but tell us – what made you decide to run for office?
I do get asked this question quite a bit, but for good measure. In short, I’m running for office because I want to help my community. Linn County is the second largest county in the state of Iowa. Our sheer size and diversity presents us with a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities.
For instance, in District 2, there is a mix of high-end residential properties, public housing in low-income neighborhoods, the up and coming New Bohemia District, industrial communities, and rural neighborhoods to the south. Each area has a specific set of needs and I hope to be a representative for everyone. I want to make sure that the same economic opportunities that exist for the worker in Cedar Rapids are there for the worker living in rural Ely; that the child growing up in my neighborhood of Oakhill, Jackson has the same opportunities as the kid who grows up in Bowman Woods.
A lot of what you’ve conveyed in your campaign speeches and writings has centered on equity. Why is this so important to you?
I talk about equity often because I believe it is the defining issue of our time. When there are groups of people who are not treated equally or lack the same opportunities afforded to others, then we defy who we are as a people. We are the United States of America, which means we all stand together, and our prospects for success and failure as a society are intrinsically tied together. We live in a time where so many people are experiencing unprecedented wealth and prosperity, which means there’s no reason why we should tolerate the massive inequality and poverty that exists in some marginalized communities.
We couldn’t agree more. With that in mind, how do you plan to address issues like inequality as a county supervisor?
That’s a great question. The simple answer is: everyone has a role to play doing this very important work, whether you’re an elected official, a community leader, or corporate leader. Whatever your role, a good amount of your time should be spent thinking about how you can help others, and particularly, how you can assist those who by reasons outside of their control, have not been given a fair shake in life.
As a county supervisor, I will have the ability to continue the work of the Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force, which is a multi-jurisdictional effort that leverages the capabilities of city and county government, along with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to address systemic poverty, inequities and other hardships plaguing our communities. In addition, I can work with other county departments to ensure that they are placing a premium on equity when it comes to the services they provide to the people of Linn County.
Shifting gears a little bit. Whenever a younger candidate runs for public office, they are usually met with a lot of skepticism as to whether or not they possess the wisdom needed to be successful in office. Have you faced any pushback because of your age?
You know, it is really unfortunate that so much attention gets paid to a person’s age. I don’t see how the number of years a person has been alive is a good indicator for how capable they will be doing any job. With that said, I understand that people often associate age with maturity — however if they have been paying attention to national politics lately, that association might very well be thrown out of the window.
Look – I’m 28 years old with several meaningful life experiences, both personal and professional that make me qualified for the job. I’ve helped manage growth and development strategy for a multi-million dollar company. I’ve helped run non-profit organizations. I’ve worked on campaigns. I’ve managed people. I’ve studied policy and organizational systems. I know how to lead, and more importantly, I know how to listen. These are the sort of things that I believe matter most when it comes to assessing the qualifications individuals running for elected office.
Sure. We’ve heard it’s just a number, anyway. But surely there have been people who influenced you along the way. Who are some of your heroes?
The individual who has had the single greatest impact on my life was my grandmother, Shirley Martin. She took me in, along with my younger sister, when our mother was murdered in Buffalo, New York when I was just four years old. She retired from her job early to raise us. She kept us in church, stayed on us about school, and did the best she could to raise us on a fixed income. She taught me how to be strong in the face of adversity and what it means to really love someone. I really do wish she has here today to see me embarking on this path for public office.
On a more local level, one of my favorite elected officials is Representative Liz Bennett. She cares about everyone in her district and it shows. She shows up at events in the community. She has a wicked awesome style. She brings people together. She has conviction, which means you’ll always know where she stands on the issues, even when the political winds are blowing against her. That sort of courage is rare in today’s political system, and that is why I admire her.
Tell us a little bit about your personal style.
Well I go for clean, functional looks. If I don’t need a tie, I’ll leave it at home. I’m a sucker for a good cardigan. I think presentation is important, but I’m also a believer that style and fashion is really all about personal expression. If you get down with Chuck Taylor Converse shoes and graphic t-shirts, then wear it with confidence. If the job requires a suit and tie, then choose a tie that makes a statement. I’m all about freedom of expression. If it feels good on you, and you like what you see in the mirror, step outside with a little pep in your step and take on the world.
You’re the Chair of the S.E.T Communities Task Force, you’re Ravi Patel’s right hand man, and you’re even teaching a class in Cedar Rapids. How do you find balance?
I think everyone struggles with finding balance. As you get older and take on more responsibilities, it gets a bit harder. I try to meditate in the mornings, and focus on what needs to get done that day. I remind myself to pay more attention to relationships than I do to tasks and deliverables. I try to “disconnect,” once I get home from the office. I’ve found that most e-mails can wait to be answered in the morning. I find micro-hobbies (things I get into for a month or so at a time). My Sundays are sacred, meaning I reserve that day for my significant other. I laugh a lot. I remember that I’m human. I keep in mind that while we ought to make the most of our short time on this earth, in the final analysis, it’s all about people and the relationships you make. That keeps me grounded.