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FIRST & 42 Forum: Meet Don Cooney

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To help our community members make informed choices in the upcoming November 2, 2021, election, we asked candidates running for local seats to participate in our Candidate Forum to help you get to know them better. Today, meet Don Cooney.

Fired up by the belief that “everyone does better when everyone does better,” Don Cooney is seeking the position of Commissioner in the City of Kalamazoo. Don would bring 22 years of previous service on the City Commission to the role, as well as his 44-year commitment to the community. “I have chosen to live here for the last 44 years because wonderful people live here. The city is rich in natural beauty, culture, educational opportunities, political activism, diversity, and economic opportunities,” Don said. To tackle the challenges of inequality, poverty, and safety in the City of Kalamazoo as a City Commissioner, Don has identified the need to “unify the wisdom and expertise of our people, practitioners, and researchers to identify best practices, essential milestones, and accountability.” Learn more about Don’s passion to become a Kalamazoo City Commissioner below.

NAME
Don Cooney

POSITION SEEKING
City Commissioner

DISTRICT POSITION REPRESENTS
City of Kalamazoo

EMAIL
donald.cooney@wmich.edu

WHAT ARE THE TOP ISSUES/CONCERNS THAT MOTIVATE YOU?
Inequality and poverty, especially among People of Color. Recent studies show that almost 40 percent of families with at least one adult working strain to meet basic needs. About 40 percent of Black children live below the poverty line. These are emergency statistics.

SHARE YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES OR SKILL SETS THAT MAKE YOU A GREAT FIT FOR THIS ROLE.
I bring the experience of 22 years previous service on the City Commission. I have been active in communities and working for justice for more than 50 years. I have a PH.D. in Social Work and Social Research. I teach classes in Social Policy, Social Change, and Community Development.

WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THE KALAMAZOO REGION IS THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE AND WORK? 
I have chosen to live here for the last 44 years because wonderful people live here. The city is rich in natural beauty, culture, educational opportunities, political activism, diversity, and economic opportunities. It has the potential to be a model for justice.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING OUR COMMUNITY?
Inequality, poverty, and safety. These are inextricably linked. We are rich in resources, but we lack a collective response. We need to unify the wisdom and expertise of our people, practitioners, and researchers to identify best practices, essential milestones, and accountability.

HOW DO YOU PLAN TO SUPPORT THE GROWTH OF THE ECONOMY IF ELECTED?
Everyone does better when everyone does better. [We can achieve this by] focusing on affording everyone the supports and opportunities for success, ending intergenerational poverty, helping our children reach the Promise or another career, and developing skilled workers.

HOW WILL YOUR ELECTION IMPACT THE REGION’S WORKFORCE AND COMPANIES WHO CALL SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN HOME?
Our economy will prosper when our people prosper. I will use my experience, my education, my research, and my relationships to help end intergenerational poverty and afford people the supports and the skills to enrich the local economy and their own.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MEASURES AT THE LOCAL LEVEL?
History has created a situation where the median net worth of white families is about $140,000; Black families, $11,000; and Hispanic families, $14,000. [I believe this is] disgraceful and demands remediation. Families of color and low income have experienced environmental oppression and that must be dealt with.

OFFER AN EXAMPLE OF WHEN YOU PERSONALLY USED HONESTY AND INTEGRITY TO SOLVE A VITAL ISSUE.
I am Associate Director of the Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations at Western Michigan University. We work with all kinds of people to end racism. As Commissioner, I worked with many different people to create Kalamazoo Communities in Schools and Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo.

HOW CAN ELECTED OFFICIALS CREATE A PLACE WHERE WORKING TOGETHER TOWARDS MEANINGFUL PROGRESS IS THE PRIORITY? 
The vast majority of people want a fully human life for all people. That is an excellent starting point. Meeting with [and] listening to all sectors of the community is essential. Where there are differences of opinion, [elected officials should] try to understand the values each wants to protect and strive for common ground.

IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU PLAN TO CONNECT WITH CONSTITUENTS TO RECEIVE THEIR INPUT?
I have worked to develop strong relationships with people everywhere in this community. I volunteer with Mothers of Hope, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, and Meals on Wheels. I go to as many community events and meetings as possible.

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