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Colorado Springs Mayor-elect Yemi Mobolade reflects on his historic victory

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Colorado Springs is getting a new mayor, and he can boast some firsts - the first Black person to be elected mayor, the first non-Republican to be elected in decades in the famously conservative city. Independent candidate Yemi Mobolade took some 57% of the vote in Tuesday's election and will take office June 6. Mayor-elect, congratulations, and welcome to the program.

YEMI MOBOLADE: Thank you, Ayesha. And thank you for having me.

RASCOE: You are originally from Nigeria. What attracted you to Colorado Springs?

MOBOLADE: Yes, I moved to the U.S. 27 years ago as an international student. My siblings and I moved because of opportunity. And by fate and faith and luck, we landed in the U.S. And I spent the first 14 of those years in northern Indiana, where I met my wife. And I landed in Colorado also because of opportunity, first as a pastor and then as a business leader and now as a civic leader.

RASCOE: You said in your acceptance speech and in other interviews that you want Colorado Springs to become an inclusive city on the hill. Have you always found the city to be welcoming?

MOBOLADE: Yes. In my study - as I study other leaders and admire what makes a great city, it starts with a city that is welcoming of different cultures, different ideas, different - even different politics.

RASCOE: Are you saying that the city is not there at this point?

MOBOLADE: What I'm saying is that we've had a good start, and I'd like for us to fully evolve into that. So the city has started in that direction. I mean, clearly, you know, electing an immigrant as mayor is a sign that the city is actually more open and embracing of people with my story than perhaps America has heard about Colorado Springs. What I'm saying is that I have an opportunity as a leader to fully help us evolve into that even more exponentially.

RASCOE: The mayoral race is officially nonpartisan in Colorado Springs, but there's been a lot of buzz over your win as a blow to the Republican Party. Do you see it that way?

MOBOLADE: Not at all. Frankly, that part of the media messages and cycle has felt frustrating for me because that's not the politics I'm trying to introduce. It's actually quite contrary to the leadership I'm trying to promote, the new way of politics I'm trying to usher. I have been clear from day one that - putting our quality of life ahead of party politics. So many of us like me in my city - 48% of us are registered unaffiliated. We are independents, and we represent so many different political values and spectrums on the continuum. So this statement is not a statement of, again, politics because this is a cancer of our nation right now. It's what I call the tribalism that we're seeing. And that's the world that I left to come to this country.

RASCOE: Can I ask you, though - you are an independent candidate, but when you look at your policies, do you consider yourself progressive? Do you consider yourself conservative? How do you look at your own policies?

MOBOLADE: There are parts of my story that people would say Yemi is conservative, and what they mean is I'm a small business owner. The way I envision government is from a limited perspective. I moved to the city as a pastor. I teach at evangelical churches. So those parts of my story lend itself as conservative. And then when you look at my work in this city - has been to embrace our communities that have been so - part of our community socioeconomically that have not had a place at the table of city leadership, reaching out to the minority communities, the African community, the African American communities, and trying to provide economic opportunities and trying to serve as a bridge to parts of our communities that have been traditionally left out from the table. That would be, quote, unquote, "more progressive."

RASCOE: So I know you said that there are a lot of people who feel like they don't have a home politically in this country. What do you feel like the movement or what you are trying to do - what would that home look like for you if it doesn't necessarily neatly fit within the two-party system that is currently in place?

MOBOLADE: Right. The home is just being Americans - red, white and blue. That is a home. And for me, the home for my city is Colorado Springs. We are Colorado Springs. That's my - that was my campaign brand. It takes all of us, not just some of us. That is a home - getting back to who we are as Americans. And I think two things can be true at the same time. I think I can hold on to my strong values and still have room for others to be welcome at the table.

RASCOE: That's Colorado Springs Mayor-elect Yemi Mobolade. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MOBOLADE: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate your time today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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