Leading Richfield

Student uses public health platform to get elected to Minneapolis suburb’s city council

By January 3, 2017

Many who work in public health are involved in their communities. But when Maria Regan Gonzalez, an executive public health practice student, decided to run for Richfield City Council’s Ward 3, she also became a leader for change.

Executive Public Health Practice student and Richfield City Councilwoman Maria Regan Gonzalez

Executive Public Health Practice student and Richfield City Councilwoman Maria Regan Gonzalez

“I want to work with others to transform systems and advance equity,” says Regan Gonzalez, who has a background in community organizing and social justice and currently works as a health improvement program manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Center for Prevention.

The suburb, located on the southern border of Minneapolis, was founded in 1908 and named for its abundance of rich farmland. The city experienced rapid change as a popular home for returning WWII veterans and now has a population of about 35,000. But demographics have changed too, with nearly 20 percent of the population identifying as Hispanic or Latino and more than 70 percent of students in Richfield schools identify as students of color.

“People on my side of town want to get more involved and be included in the conversation, and they saw they could do that with me as their city councilwoman,” says Regan Gonzalez, who is Latina and wants to create a healthier Richfield for all, regardless of race or identity.

Regan Gonzalez’s district borders the MSP International Airport and the Mall of America. In this area, there are a lot of commercial redevelopment opportunities, but many fear that these may sacrifice housing options in an area with a high concentration of low income communities of color. “These residents needed someone who is equity focused to represent them,” she says.

She’s incorporating her public health training by focusing on a health in all policies framework, which works to improve the health of all people by incorporating health considerations in decision-making across sectors. “The majority of health is impacted and influenced by factors outside of the hospital and clinic walls — health is primarily created by conditions such as physical environment, health behaviors, and social and economic factors,” she says.

Regan Gonzalez with Chelsea Clinton at the Unidos Votamos Get out the Vote Rally

Regan Gonzalez with Chelsea Clinton at the Unidos Votamos Get out the Vote Rally

Due to graduate in 2019 with her MPH degree, Regan Gonzalez will continue to work full-time when she is sworn in come January. “My workplace has been extremely supportive and I’ve been able to organize my classes to better accommodate my schedule,” she says. And she’s preparing for her new role by meeting with city staff and other council members. “There’s a lot to learn and I’ve received a lot of support.”

“You can make real and impactful changes for the improved health, prosperity, and wellbeing of a community at the municipal and local levels of government and I’m excited to get started and work with my fellow residents as their new city council representative.”

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