Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López visited Michigan State University as part of the MPP Speaker Series November 4th. Her passion for service and understanding of a wide array of policies have helped her to be an effective council member and policymaker. She serves the ethnically diverse District 6, in Southwest Detroit, where she herself grew up. Her visit allowed MPP students to hear firsthand about council activities, current policy issues, and her own career experiences.
Council Member Castañeda-López is on a council committee and is involved in many activities throughout Detroit. She is also a liaison for Detroit Public Schools. To fulfill all these roles, she draws on her knowledge, information from constituents and public officials, and her experiences as a social worker and non-profit employee. Her long history of service to families and to people in poverty or facing social and economic challenges informs her work as a council member and community representative.
Castañeda-López discussed her entry into politics. An experienced social worker, Castañeda-López shared that she did not start out hoping for a political career. An experience interning with a state representative and a job running a campaign increased her understanding of political work, but it wasn’t until her neighbors urged her to run for council that she thought of entering politics herself. Castañeda-López won her first election in 2013.
Her success shows how people involved in policy don’t always follow a specific career path. She was able to gain a voice in council on behalf of her constituents through the hard work of community campaigning, door knocking, and speaking with voters. Her sense of responsibility to her community was an important motivator for her decision.
Castañeda-López has been an important proponent of Detroit’s Welcoming City status. She has also worked on a variety of initiatives related to pollution, supporting education, and strengthening city services.
At Friday’s event, a major topic of discussion was Detroit’s new municipal ID program. City residents will soon be able to obtain a personal ID card that will be accepted by the City as well as many businesses and institutions. These cards allow people who do not have access to other forms of identification to access community benefits as well as private services. Uses include opening bank accounts and accessing social services. The card may also help capture a sense of identity among Detroit residents.
It is expected that a diverse group of people will choose to obtain a city ID. Castañeda-López said that her office has received many requests for information about IDs from Detroiters as well as people from other communities. Other Michigan cities have also expressed interest in creating similar programs. Municipal IDs will be distributed at health and recreation centers to ensure accessibility.
Castañeda-López emphasized the importance of responding to her constituent’s needs and values regardless of their background. She also discussed the importance of transparency and accountability, and noted how policies can gain or lose strength based on mayoral support.
MPP students had a diverse set of questions. Issues included environmental pollution in the city, the City Council’s relations with the executive, and evaluation criteria for the new ID program. The Open Streets initiative and improved mobility for the whole population were also discussed.
It was valuable for students to hear from a very active and dedicated Council Member like Ms. Castañeda-López. Her discussion provided valuable insights to students interested in any type of policy work. She encouraged them to look for opportunities to intern in the Detroit area and learn more about community engagement and policy.