We can no longer afford to give politicians a pass for criminal activity, bad public conduct, or misrepresentation of the people.
That was my initial response to the news that Superior City Councilor Graham Garfield—for whom I voted—was arrested on April 20 and charged with pointing a firearm at his fiancée while intoxicated.
As a survivor of domestic and sexual assault, I was triggered and emotionally drained. After months of engaging communities of color to get involved, I was devastated. Many of us felt we knew Garfield personally. Yet I held out hope that he would step down from his council seat, if only to take care of his legal issues.
But he did not. In a May 2 statement reminiscent of former Mayor Bruce Hagen’s derogatory remarks about Muslims and his failure to respond to calls for his resignation (including one from Garfield), Garfield announced he would remain on the council.
I have decided it will be best for my district and the council that I continue to serve in my existing capacity. Just as the election process is sacred, so too is the American justice system; a system that maintains that I am entitled to a fair legal process before judgment is passed against me. It was unfortunate that the [newly-elected] mayor [Jim Paine] sought to inappropriately pass that judgment. Regardless, I continue to support his agenda and believe in the principles on which I was elected. I would also like it noted that I am now living a sober life and have begun to attend AA meetings.
The Feminist Justice League put out a call, asking advocates, survivors, and allies in the fight against domestic violence to converge on the next council meeting, where community members, myself included, voiced our distress. With her two young sons at her side, Laura Gapske, a newly elected school board member, said Garfield is the wrong type of role model for our young men and sets a bad example of how to treat women.
By midnight the next day, a petition for Garfield’s resignation had over 150 signatures. Maintaining his innocence, but up against a wall of resistance from constituents, Garfield issued another statement on May 4:
Out of concern for the wellbeing of the community and wishing no harm upon my colleagues, I announce that I will be stepping down. It has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures to serve the people of this city, and I hope that I can be an asset to the community again someday. I continue to support, as a citizen, a progressive agenda that will benefit all members of the community and make our city a better place to live.
Many of my white feminist sister-advocates were elated, but I was still distressed. Once again, we had been let down by the hubris of a male elected official. As a community activist of color, I’m still wondering why any of us should trust a white candidate. As a woman, why trust a male candidate? And why are we adhering to politics as usual in this time of resistance?
Why am I still so adamant that our voting rights and voices be heard? Because these are our communities and our lives. Because it’s our responsibility as citizens—black, white, red, or brown—to monitor the behavior of those we elect to lead. It is my hope that what we have done will empower the community to stand up to this controversial issue and say no more!