Ayanna Shivers reflects on past year as mayor, re-election

Fiona Murphy
The Mexico Ledger
Mayor Ayanna Shivers rides as the grand marshall, along with her father, Isaac, Dec. 2019 during the annual Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade in downtown Mexico. Leading the parade with her father was one of the highlights of her first term as mayor, she said.

Mexico’s first African American female mayor, Ayanna Shivers, has had a whirlwind of a year. She was was re-elected by the Mexico City Council Monday night to serve a seccond term. Shivers will be the longest serving African American mayor of the city when her second term ends in 2021.

Shivers nomination for a second term by the city council was unopposed. Mexico’s first black mayor was Herman O. Tolson, who served from 1974-75.

Unlike mayors who served before her, Shivers faces unique challenges like leading the city during a global pandemic and, more recently, protests against police brutality that have erupted in communities across the nation, including Mexico.

“I think what I found is people look to me for assurance,” she said.

Shivers spoke to the roughly 50 people who gathered downtown June 3 to attend a prayer vigil following the death of George Floyd.

“Speaking as a black female, it made me feel hope,” Shivers said. “When you see and know people who may not look like you or share your same experiences acknowledge what's going on. It is refreshing to have people trying to understand and show empathy.”

A video of Floyd’s death was seen across the globe where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin has now been charged with second-degree murder. A protest in Mexico also occurred at Lakeview Park the same time as the downtown vigil.

Shivers said she was proud to see residents of Mexico gather for the vigil and protest and in doing so recognize that police brutality toward people of color “isn’t a figment of our imagination.”

Shivers past year as mayor has not only looked at hardships, but also celebrations. One highlight was getting to a better place of understanding with the community on a variety of topics, as well serving as the grand marshal of the Christmas parade.

Her goal during the pandemic actually was to be more accessible. She hopes to continue her monthly “Munch with the Mayor” meetings where community members are able to engage in conversation over lunch.

Despite transitioning to Zoom to ensure social distancing, the number of participants at Munch with the Mayor has remained strong, around 10 people per meeting, Shivers said.

As a counselor and adjunct professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Shivers believes keeping in conversation during this time is the best way to understand and proactively meet the needs of Mexico’s residents.

During the past few months, community members have reached out to her over Facebook more than ever during the past few months she said. She has answered questions about community issues and has directed people to COVID-19 related news and resources.

The future remains largely uncertain due to COVID-19 and that is a difficulty Shivers will have to face in her second term. It is hard to predict what will happen especially for the reopening of businesses and schools. Some businesses downtown have partially reopened under the guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the state, but it is hard to predict the future as case numbers continue to increase in Audrain County. Those recovered from COVID-19 continues to outpace active cases, however.

Unemployment in Mexico has jumped from roughly three percent to most recent data showing 9.3%, according to Mexico Director of Economic Development Russell Runge.

On the corner of Monroe and Clark streets a sign reminds passersby to “shop local.” The city is encouraging people to shop locally to support businesses that remain open in light of increasing employment. Shivers has been taking note.

“I've spent more money locally since I've been staying home,” Shivers said. “I think people are making a conscientious effort, because we do want to keep our businesses.”

Community members are using the hashtag “Mighty MexMO” on social media platforms to promote local business. The city’s sales tax collection increased nearly 7% when compared to last year, City Administrator Bruce Slagle said. This means people are spending more of their money in Mexico. The increase likely reflects people receiving the government issued stimulus check as well as not being able to travel long distances to shop in other towns, he said.

“I think during this time it’s all these little things that will make a difference,” Shivers said.

Entering her second term as mayor, Shivers plans to continue emphasizing local projects such as the Mexico Sustainability Project, a program focusing on improving Mexico’s workforce and the well-being of students who face poverty, while the city navigates the pandemic. Shivers will continue her monthly Munch with the Mayor and still has her sights on running for state senate office down the line, but as of now she is taking it “one day at a time.”