Michelle Suarez, who spent most of her career as a teacher and principal at Lincoln Public Schools, became the first Latina Lincoln City Council member Monday when she was sworn in to finish Jane Raybould’s term.
“While I am appointed to serve the residents of District 3 and the entire Lincoln community, it is my responsibility to note and recognize that as the proud granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, this is important to me, my family and the Latino community,” she said.
Her twin sister — who also was an educator — sat in the audience, along with Suarez's husband, and longtime community activist Marty Ramirez to see the council’s vote to appoint her.
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said Suarez was instrumental in the successful launch of Prosper Lincoln’s early childhood education initiatives.
“I hope this historic appointment to the City Council encourages other members of our community to seek elected office and apply to serve on city boards and commissions to help elevate diverse voices and perspectives in local government,” Gaylor Baird said in an emailed statement.
Suarez will serve the remaining five months of Raybould’s term representing southwest Lincoln’s District 3, and has indicated she doesn’t plan to run for the seat in this spring’s elections. Raybould was elected to the Legislature in November.
Suarez was one of 11 people who applied for the position, and was the council's consensus candidate.
She sat through a lengthy meeting on controversial floodplain regulations before the lighter moment of her swearing in — and her first action as a council member was to adjourn the meeting.
But before that, she thanked the council for the opportunity to serve and made a few comments, noting that she’s lived in Lincoln more than 40 years, coming here to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She and her husband, John, have lived in the same house for nearly 30 years and they, along with their two daughters, have enjoyed a wonderful life in Lincoln, she said.
“I want that for all Lincoln’s residents.”
She talked about how she and her five brothers and sisters were raised in a 500-square-foot home in Scottsbluff, where, when disagreements arose, her siblings would inevitably ask whose side she was on.
“I would often say, ‘Well, I’m on the side of truth and justice,’” she said. “They would often groan and say ‘What does that mean? Whose side are you on?'”
She elaborated from the dais on that point, saying that it means being on the side of children and working families, safe and affordable housing, nutritious food, health care, a living wage, opportunity through education and equity for all.
“I believe that when we work together by embracing diversity in all of its complexity and beauty, when we are inclusive, when we work hard on behalf of our entire community, we will have a more equitable and prosperous community.”