Bettendorf doctor Mary Kathleen Figaro officially announced Tuesday that she is running as a Democrat for the open Iowa Senate District 47 seat, representing Eldridge, Bettendorf, Riverdale, Panorama Park and parts of LeClaire and Davenport.
"Throughout her career, Dr. Figaro has cared for and advocated for patients and families who entrust her with their health," according to her campaign. "She aims to give her constituents the same care and attention as she gives her patients. She is running for State Senate to champion public health and mental health, early child health screenings and care, and to improve social infrastructure."
Figaro immigrated to the United States from Haiti with her parents, small business owners who fled political and economic oppression, according to her campaign biography.
Figaro grew up in New Jersey, "where at a young age, she learned the value and importance of a great public school, as well as the values of hard work and civic engagement," according to her campaign.
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She graduated with honors from Princeton University and from Yale University School of Medicine, and went on to earn her master's in epidemiology and health services research from Cornell and taught preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University.
She and her family relocated to Bettendorf six years ago and she has built her own practice, seeing patients with hormone-related conditions as an endocrinologist.
Figaro, a first-time candidate, said she is running to promote "shared accountability as a community" to better protect and provide care and resources for children, the elderly and infirm, and those struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.
"I see those members in our community as needing representation and needing help to improve their status," Figaro said.
She bemoaned Iowa's response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think my expectations were not realized and that many people in public health would agree," Figaro said. "And that going forward dealing with our fatigue with the disease is as important as dealing with the disease itself. ... Getting a consensus on truth is very difficult. I see both danger and opportunity ahead."
The danger, Figaro said, is that Iowans lose sight of loved ones still at risk of being severely injured or killed by the disease, and the opportunity to make public health a higher priority.
"I think everyone's expectations in the beginning was that the CDC would become a shining light and we would become the model for all countries, with the least deaths and the least chaos," Figaro said. "And we would show the world how to deal with the pandemic. That was my expectation. Perhaps I was too optimistic."
If elected, Figaro said she would also work to advance policies to improve childhood education, "making sure school is both safe and a good place to learn," that the arts are well-supported and "that teachers are well-respected" and have the freedom, support and materials that they need.
Asked about recent calls from some parents and some Republican lawmakers to remove books in school libraries that they say contain explicit material, Figaro said, "the teacher and families know best."
"And that school districts are local for a good reason," she said. "That they respond to and are accountable to those who use those services. And I am less interested in state representatives promulgating to a school district or to a teacher what he or she can instruct in a classroom."
Some books have been targeted by Iowans who feel their content is vulgar or too graphic. Most feature LGBTQ themes or are written by LGBTQ authors, and include passages that describe sexual experiences.
The new district is not currently represented by an incumbent after Iowa State Sens. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, and Roby Smith, R-Davenport, were drawn into the same district.
Smith, who previously represented parts of the new district, announced last this month that he will run for state treasurer in 2022 rather than seek reelection to the Iowa Senate.
Lykam last week announced he will not seek reelection to the Iowa Senate and will retire after serving out this current term through 2022.