On the road to Philly: Michelle Magyar

Attending DNC brings Iowa business owner full circle

Davenport business woman Michelle Magyar grew up in a row house on Philadelphia’s south side. Most days that piece of personal history isn’t a big factor in her life.

Eastern Iowa — home to friends and family, her Hawkeye alma mater and the recently expanded and highly successful family business she manages — is where her heart is.

Through community organizing efforts that led to the founding of Citizens United for Responsible Vision, Magyar has made an indelible mark on this community. The group co-led by Magyar not only successfully defeated a $48 million bond proposal, but also sued the city and won and flipped the whole of local government with a slate of candidates. The actions brought about change she believes has led to increased public investment and economic development, especially in the downtown area. She’s extremely proud of that accomplishment.

What’s more, she knows that if it were necessary she could and would do it all again.

Audience members cheer while U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida on July 22, 2016..
Audience members cheer while U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida on July 22, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The former Republican turned Democrat also knows that standing once again in Philadelphia, this time as a national delegate supporting Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, comes with a nod to her 13-year-old self.

“I’m coming back and will be one of about 2,300 people who will cast a ballot not only for our next president, but the first nominee of a major political party who is a woman. That’s significant — it sort of reminds me of that Virginia Slims slogan, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby,’” Magyar said with a laugh.

She has become what she works to inspire others to be: one person working with like-minded neighbors to make a difference.

“Did I know when I was 6 years old and in Philadelphia that one person could make a difference? No. Did anyone around me on the south side of Philly when I was 12 or 13 know I’d be here? No,” she said.

“But that young child became a woman who owns a business, has a mind, develops opinions and supports issues — a woman who will now go and be one of the electorate that will cast a vote for, hopefully, our next U.S. president. I’m very, very proud of that.”

Although many things were part of her evolution from then to now, Magyar can pinpoint the moment when she became more political.

“I met someone who introduced me to what organizing is all about, and what local community politics is all about. That person taught me how it all starts with one person, and how it all starts in your own neighborhood,” she said, speaking of Carol Moritz, currently director of marketing and sales at Magyar’s glass fabrication business, Mid-American Glass.

It was while fighting the proposed bond referendum that the two founded Citizens United for Responsible Vision, and through their work with that group that Magyar discovered a propensity for organizing.

“It was having passion for an issue and recognizing that I had qualities that could bring groups together, making things clear for them so that we could more easily communicate with the larger public what we were fighting for and keeping that core group focused on the task at hand,” she said.

That last part, she added, is really important because you have people who arrive at the same point for different reasons. Some had become active with the Davenport group because they opposed a golf course, others were there because they understood TIF and still others just didn’t like government. Movements contain various perspectives, but need to speak with a unified voice.

“Which is where we are now with Hillary and Bernie supporters,” she said. “We are actually there for the same thing. So, let’s not focus on our differences, or how we all arrived at this particular place, but look at what we want the end result to be.”

Magyar says that after the battles in Davenport, she took a few steps back to concentrate on the business.

“In 2008, I wasn’t really there. I mean, I did cast a ballot, went to events and gave donations, but I wasn’t part of the Clinton campaign in that cycle or on the Obama bandwagon,” she said.

“But when this election season came around, something just slapped me upside my head.”

Part of her wake up call unfortunately came when one of Carol’s siblings, local United Food & Commercial Workers Union member Tom Moritz, lost his battle with brain cancer. She was with him just four days before he died in September of last year. Tom was the grand marshal for the Rock Island Labor Day parade.

“Tom was just a fabulous man, a vice president of the UFCW in this area who worked his way up as a local organizer. He was always involved in Democratic Party politics and was a Davenport alderman. He had this personality of positiveness that brought people together. He was the person you went to, and he was always there when you called. He helped people and paid attention them. When others didn’t even realize help was needed, he was already there,” she said.

“I was there at that parade because it was Tom’s parade, and I wanted to be there with him. I wanted to just walk right behind his car, but they wouldn’t let me.”

Instead, Magyar connected with the local Clinton campaign and marched with that group. It resonated not only because she’d followed Clinton since the early 1990s, but also because it fit with her wanting to be there for Tom and his commitment to be part of something larger than himself.

“So, after Tom passed away, I dug in because I could, and because it’s what he would have done and what was needed,” she said.

When Tom’s mother relayed the story of how he had bypassed an opportunity to become a national delegate to the 1988 convention and encouraged Magyar to be one this election, Magyar launched a successful two-day campaign before the 2nd District Convention. She was elected from a field of 28 on the first ballot.

She’s ready to complete two primary tasks when she arrives in Philadelphia. One is simply to have Clinton’s back.

“Anyone who tries to take some thunder away from her, I’m going to have her back,” she said. “I want to make sure she has the kickoff that she deserves.”

The other is to put her organizing skills to good work and unite the delegates behind a Clinton nomination.

“I’m going to make sure what when we leave on Thursday night, there is one unified, energized and excited delegation returning to Iowa,” she said.

“I welcome (the Bernie Sanders delegates’) opportunity to cast their ballot for their candidate on the convention floor as long as they agree that once they are done and once Bernie and they have had a moment of recognition for all of their efforts in this campaign cycle we will all come together. Cast that ballot, then cheer with me when Hillary gets the nomination.”

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 24, 2016. Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters