By Sinclair Broadcast Group
A Nigerian-born woman running for office in Nashville, Tennessee could become the first Muslim elected to the Metro Nashville Council.
Zulfat Suara won a run-off amid a crowded field for an at-large seat on the city government. With just five vacant at-large seats, there were 15 candidates. Incumbent Bob Mendes won one of the seats outright, leaving Suara and seven others to fight for the other four seats in a run-off election.
Suara stunned even herself after not just qualifying for the run-off, but finishing with the second-highest percentage of votes behind Mendes.
“We worked hard and we hoped we would make a run-off,” Suara told The National Desk. “It was a surprise, a good one.”
Suara’s path started in Nigeria and led to Tennessee in 1993 when her husband was offered a fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. It quickly became her home, Zulfat founding an accounting firm in 1998 which worked with several counties. That led to work at Meharry Medical College as the school’s Assistant Controller.
With a full-time job, a daughter in Metro Nashville Schools, and a husband, Suara had a full plate. But she decided she wanted to run for one of the at-large seats because not only is her expertise right for the gig, she knows the city well and wants to serve.
“I know it sounds cliche,” Suara says, “but I want to give back to a city which has given so much to me and my family.” Suara says her expertise in budgeting would serve the Metro Council well given that is a large part of what the council does. But its also what she has experienced in the city she loves which she believes qualifies her. “I see through my daughter how schools in the city need more funding. I see the cost of living going up but wages staying the same.”
Overall, Suara says she wants the honor of the job because of the people, and she is blunt when it comes to her religion while living and serving in the Bible Belt. “Of course, it comes up,” Suara says of her Muslim religion. “But I have been in the community a long time, I’ve advocated for the community for a long time, and people have been very good to us. They have been very receptive.”
When Suara sees negativity, it is usually on social media, but they are the minority. “I see it all the time, but for every bad comment, I get ten good ones. I focus on the good, the majority,” Suara says.
But even to those with something negative to say, Suara says she is available. “It’s very sad those people don’t know me. They have not walked with me. I want them to get to know me.”
That minority didn’t matter in the August election given Suara’s support at the polls. While it was a pleasant surprise, voters seemed to cast their ballots based on her qualifications. “People actually looked and my qualifications and what I’ve been doing for a long time,” Suara says. “I think that’s what people care about most. Its what they should be about at the end of the day.”
The process for Suara has also been a tiring one. She’s up at 7 in the morning working, then has breakfast and goes to work. She works on the campaign during her lunch hour, then after work comes home and spends time with the family, followed by working on the campaign. “Sleep is overrated,” she says with a chuckle, “I’ll sleep after the run-off.”
Before ending the interview with The National Desk, Suara said she wanted one thing to be clear, regardless of how the election turns out and how people perceive this interview; “I want it to be clear how much I love this city, love these people.”
The seven other candidates to qualify for the September run-off election are Sheri Weiner, Sharon Hurt, Burkley Allen, Fabian Bedne, Steve Glover, Gary Moore, and Howard Jones.