“I ran the first time and lost, I ran the second time and lost, but I ran the third time and won. I couldn’t give up on my community. My constituents say I am persistent,” says At-Large Councilwoman, Marikay Abuzuaiter of the Greensboro City Council.
Before Councilwoman Abuzuaiter was elected to City Council, she was a small business owner for more than 20 years in Greensboro. Small businesses often carry the brunt of poor economic and environmental conditions and as a business owner herself, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter quickly learned that the decisions City Council makes affects residents on a daily basis.
Councilwoman Abuzuaiter remembers when the city planned to open a new phase of the White Street Landfill in the late 1990s, which she explains, would have caused detrimental health risks and living conditions in certain residential communities. “I knew lifelong friends and customers who would have terribly been impacted by this and I couldn’t stay silent,” says Councilwoman Abuzuaiter. Like most women do when they see a need for change, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter decided to take action. She began attending city council meetings regularly and decided to join forces with other community members to protest this project.
After witnessing how the power of the people moved the council to permanently close the landfill, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter decided to run for the first time for an at-large member seat on the Greensboro City Council. Councilwoman Abuzuaiter says, “I wanted to serve my community and I knew that the decisions I make on the council, like improving housing conditions or bringing better-paying jobs to the city, would affect people’s lives daily.”
Councilwoman Abuzuaiter ran her first race in 2007 and lost by 100 votes. She ran a second time in 2009 and lost by 500 votes. When she ran the first time and lost, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter remembers feeling disappointed, but when she ran the second time and lost, she was heartbroken. Councilwoman Abuzuaiter didn’t plan to run a third race, but the overwhelming support she got from her community gave her the courage to try one more time. When the at-large seats were up for grabs again in 2011, Councilwoman got calls from friends and supporters asking her to run. In that moment, she realized something she never realized before, saying “in the time I had spent turf-cutting, knocking on doors, and fundraising, I built a community of supporters and volunteers who care deeply about me and believe in my vision.”
The morning after the election, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter became one of the six women on the Greensboro City Council. She describes that as an elected official, there are moments of challenge, but also moments of great joy. Serving as Council Liaison to the Commission on the Status of Women, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter describes helping to start the Guilford County Family Justice Center (FJC) as one of her proudest accomplishments since being elected to the council. After four years of planning, the center now serves as a collaborative effort between the city, the county, and other community partners to provide safety and legal, social, and health services to people and families experiencing domestic violence or abuse. Councilwoman Abuzuaiter reports that since the FJC opened five years ago, over 17,000 people entered its doors, 80% of whom have been female. She is pleased that the center is now serving many women, children, men, and elderly folks who at one point had nowhere else to go.
Asked to describe her idea of success, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter defines it as continuing to build trust and accountability with her constituents. A relentless local leader, Councilwoman Abuzuaiter’s office is always open for residents to share their issues, challenges, and successes.