Two Valpo professors are campaigning together for this year’s city council race. Liz Wuerffel, associate professor of art, and Heath Carter, associate professor of history, are running for the two at-large city council seats.
Carter and Wuerffel announced their campaign for city council through a video they posted on Facebook. Their campaign has gained traction through their social media presence.
“We have big Facebook groups. We are well-connected in that way so we are using that as a primary platform, which in Valparaiso is also a primary platform of social media, and I think we are trying to tap into that as a resource,” Wuerffel said.
Their idea to campaign together is based on their friendship and shared ideals.
“There's a joy in having shared values and being able to talk about those together and make campaign decisions together and do it over a pint of beer or a cup of coffee with a friend,” Wuerffel said.
Wuerffel and Carter are actively engaged in the Valpo community in different ways.
“I'm not running as a university professor first and foremost. I am a university professor but I am running as a citizen of the city as a resident and a person who cares about this place,” Carter said.
Wuerffel’s position as co-director of the Welcome Project, which is a research project story collection, has been part of her experience as an active citizen. Through this project, she has interviewed residents from across Northwest Indiana to hear their stories.
“It's been a very interesting project where I've been listening deeply to who we are and what we're about, and I think that that has had some part of the motivation to run,” Wuerffel said.
Wuerffel said she wasn’t sure if she was going to run for city council until MLK Day, when she presented during a panel session. She encouraged students to actively engage in the community.
“One of the points that I was making is that if we care deeply about our life in the places we live, then we need to be active citizens. And so it was an appeal to students to do things like get out and vote or run for office, and then I realized quickly that if I was telling students to go run for office, I should probably try it myself,” Wuerffel said.
Carter has been the chair of the City of Valparaiso’s Human Relations Council for a little over three years.
“I think that any politician -- if that's what we are -- worth their salt is going to be engaged in the local community in ordinary ways,” Carter said.
As chair of the Human Relations Council, Carter wanted to focus on big picture issues that impact citizens’ everyday lives, like hiring, civil rights and empowering underrepresented community leaders.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work closely with people around the community and also with city hall on what I think are some important initiatives,” Carter said.
“I think that at the course of the year went along and we were engaged in these kind of public conversations about housing, it became very clear to me that in order to really push forward the kind of initiatives that I believe in, you have to have access to policy and policy-making abilities,” Carter said.
Carter said he thinks the Human Relations Council will continue to offer an accessible platform for citizens to express their concerns and for those concerns to then be moved into action.
Wuerffel and Carter are passionate are both passionate about advocating for an affordable housing policy.
“43% of Valpo residents are struggling to pay their bills in a sustainable manner right now. That's a huge number... If we are going to make even a small dent in that, it's going to take a lot of energy a lot of creativity and a real determination to pursue as many different solutions as we possibly can,” Carter said.
“I've seen a number of students who have graduated from here and would want to stay in the City of Valparaiso [and] not being able to afford it, and either taking jobs elsewhere or moving out of the city into regional areas that are more affordable… I think right now we have this potential to really shift the way in which Valparaiso becomes a city that has housing for everyone and away from the kind of trend that we've seen where it's been a city that encourages growth in the highest most luxury kind of condominiums and homes,” Wuerffel said.
Although Wuerffel and Carter see Valparaiso University as an important institution in this community, and they want to encourage students to be actively engaged in the community, no matter who they vote for in the election.
“It would be great to see this place come alive to some of the real opportunities and challenges that this city faces. I would love to see students be engaged in civic life more broadly, and so insofar as if this campaign was to have the effect of helping students to find a way, a voice -- that's exciting to me,” Carter said.
“As a student it's easy to feel like you're not connected to the broader community at the university or college you're at is in but you are here… for four years, sometimes five years -- and that is a significant period of time,” Wuerffel said. “And you're also setting the stage for everyone who comes after you, and so I think there's a way in which if students understood their value to the greater city and the way in which they could impact it, that would be huge.”
Carter and Wuerffel don’t want students to feel obligated to vote for them, but they hope students will get involved with the community in various ways.
A group of students are working with Wuerffel and Carter as part of their senior communication capstone project. Rachel Jackson, Raymond Pollalis, Lydia Spone and Jake Landgraf are helping their campaign in different ways, including building a website, creating graphics, working with social media and helping out with events.
“We figured it's a very different approach to the senior Capstone project than most people take,” Pollalis said. “Rather than going with a local business we are going with people that are very connected to the university just as we are, on top of the fact that we want to do something for the city of Valpo.”
Carter and Wuerffel will host different events in the next couple of months in preparation for Porter County’s Primary Election Day, which is Tuesday, May 7. Their first event is Buttons & Beer at Ironwood Brewery, which will be on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.
“This is a great adventure. I really do care and believe in these things and I have no idea what the outcome may be, but I think that no matter what we are going to make the most of it. And we’re going to try and start important conversations and stoke them in wider circles, and I hope that we’ll win. And I think our values and visions for Valpo would add a great dimension to local life,” Carter said.