Chemistry Researcher Aims for City Council Seat
Posted October 27, 2009 | Atlanta, GA
Bahareh Azizi, a researcher and Research Support manager in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, had thrown her hat in the ring for the District 6 Atlanta City Council race. It's a crowded field, with six candidates, but Azizi stays optimistic about her chances. Her campaign is centralized on the idea of bringing new people with new ideas to the council, and on increasing Atlanta's stature as an international city. Born in Houston, Azizi was raised in Kuwait. She earned her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and her doctorate in chemistry and biochemistry from Georgia Tech. District 6 is comprised of Midtown, Candler Park, Virginia Highlands, Midtown, Morninside and Lindridge Martin Manor.
When did you decide to run for the open Atlanta City Council position in District 6?
The incumbent [Anne Fauver] decided not to run again at the end of April, and seriously started considering running at the end of May. I took the month of June to put a campaign team together, and we launched the campaign July 4.
How is the campaign going?
Candidates are required to file their disclosures on June 30, Sept. 30 and Oct. 30. Since I filed to run at the beginning of July, I didn't post anything June 30. By Sept. 30, Alex Wan-who many consider the front-runner-had reported donations of $80,000. We were in second place, with $40,000, which is impressive for someone who got into the race late and with no name recognition. I'm pretty happy about that.
And I have been endorsed by Atlanta Progressive News and the Association of Professional City Employees-that was pretty rewarding. I think the city's employees are what sustains the city and allows it to function.
How has this campaign affected your schedule?
I wake up at 6 a.m., and answer e-mails until 8:30. I work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and I walk door-to-door in neighborhoods until 7. If I need to, I attend neighborhood meetings from 7 to 9. And then from 9 to midnight or 1 a.m., I'm back at Tech working.
Why is this so important to you?
Any direction the city takes directly affects us here at Tech, as evidenced by the recent problems with crime. College is a time when [students] should be able to walk around campus late at night. But the campus is not as safe as it could be because the city is not as safe as it should be.
There are creative ways to increase our public safety. We could put administrative officers on the street, and hire retired officers for part-time work to handle the administrative work, for example. It's a simple way to get more officers on the street for not much more money.
The key to moving Atlanta forward in the next four years is having people with new ideas making decisions. You have some on the council who have been there for 20 years. There are only five open seats this time, so the remaining 10 members will still be a majority. Any one new [on the Atlanta City Council] will need to be able to form coalitions and cooperate with those already on the council to new ideas forward.
What has this experience been like?
I now have a respect and admiration for all those who have chosen to run for public office. It's a huge time-consuming effort. And I don't think people realize how hard it is to gain a vote. You must have the ability to connect with the voter-it takes time and energy. You have to be yourself, and you can't make promises you can't keep while learning about issues that are important to people. And in listening to people with issues, I find it frustrating that I can't help them now.
At the same time, I have had a blast. If this process has shown me anything, it's that with a little bit of training and a little bit of discipline, you can learn something new. And, personally, it's a nice charge to hear that people are going to support you.
What has been tough about the experience?
Balancing- I would love to be able to take some time off for myself. But when I decided I was going to run, I made a commitment that I would continue to be a mentor to the students and continue with my work at Georgia Tech, as well as commit my time to the campaign.
What is your background?
I grew up in Kuwait, but I was born in Houston and went to school in Michigan [Michigan State University].
My father was a diplomat for the Iranian government before the revolution. He was living in Houston, but then was sent to Kuwait. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, we ended up staying in Kuwait. My mother is a teacher at Kuwait University.
Moving to Michigan was a challenge-the weather change was the roughest. Between snow storms and sand storms, I think I prefer sand. I received a bachelor of science in biochemistry and biotechnology at MSU, and I earned my doctorate from Georgia Tech. My sister also graduated from Tech. She earned her undergraduate and master's degree from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.
How are people responding to your candidacy?
Granted, some of the responses I get are because of my name. But on the whole, I'm not judged for not being a 'traditional American.'
My link to Georgia Tech has helped me, I think. Tech has a place of respect, not only in Atlanta, but also around the country.
How has your diverse background aided in your campaign?
Well, homelessness is a huge issue for me. During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait [in 1990], we went from having a home to living in two cars almost overnight. While driving through Kuwait through Iraq and into Iran, for several days we were sleeping in some parks.
I realize that some homeless persons are not mentally capable of pulling themselves out of that condition. But if we can help some achieve more than that, we have a responsibility to do so. My parents would tell me as a child, 'It's best to wear your shoes. But every now and then, just to appreciate what you have, it's a good idea to wear someone else's, even if just for a while.' That has always stuck with me.
What are your duties at Tech?
I advise graduate students and I run a research lab with six students. I teach occasionally-it depends on the semester. I also run the research facilities and the safety department in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I decided on a non-tenure track because I really enjoy the administrative aspect. And I love working with students-there is nothing more rewarding that being an educator.
How did you decide on becoming a chemist?
I never wanted to be a scientist when I was filling out my application for college. My parents told me that if I wanted to go to school overseas [America], I could either study science, math, pre-med, engineering or law. I wanted to study journalism, but my parents said if I wanted to do that, then I could just stay [in Kuwait].
While looking at my application, I noticed the 'Undecided' box, so I checked that, thinking I would change to something later. I received my acceptance letter and noticed I had been accepted in Michigan State's College of Natural Science under chemistry. My mother told me, 'See? They looked at your grades and thought that you would be well-suited to be a scientist.'
When I finally got to school and met with my advisor, I was in his office and saw my application. My mother had used White Out on 'Undecided' and had selected 'Chemistry.' Even today, she takes credit for my career.
The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.