Christopher Coburn headshot

Christopher Coburn

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Gallatin City-County Board of Health member Christopher Coburn announced Monday he is running for Bozeman City Commission this November.

Christopher Coburn, 29, said in a news release Monday that he would bring new representation to the five-member city commission as a “young, queer, person of color who has experienced some of the biggest challenges our community faces,” like affordable housing and student loan debt.

Coburn said he wants to bring his “lived experience” to the commission.

“I’m 29, and I rent my apartment, and I have a lot in common with most people who live in this community,” Coburn said Monday. “A lot of the issues that are impacting people, a lot of the issues that the commission spends a lot of time talking about that people are keeping an eye on and they’re trying to work toward directly impact me and the people that are like me. And we don’t necessarily have a good voice on the commission.”

A native Montanan, Coburn moved from Missoula to Bozeman four years ago with his partner. He works at Bozeman Health as a system manager for community health improvement and partnerships and was appointed by the county commission to the Gallatin City-County Board of Health in 2019.

Coburn previously put his name in to be considered to fill an open city commission seat last fall after the resignation of Mayor Chris Mehl. Despite receiving the vast majority of written and spoken public comment during the process, the commissioners selected planning board member Jennifer Madgic for the seat, causing backlash among some of Coburn’s supporters.

Madgic’s seat, as well as that of Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham and Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy, will also be on the November ballot. Their current terms end next January, while the terms for Mayor Cyndy Andrus and Commissioner Michael Wallner end in 2024.

Coburn said Monday that the appointment in the fall started an important conversation in the community and influenced his decision to run in the November elections.

“I was just blown away by the number of people who even called in or wrote in and supported me, particularly younger people,” Coburn said. “Young people are just really looking for somebody who shares their experiences, so I think that’s a really critical part in my campaign we’re doing, spending a lot of time connecting with younger people.”

Coburn has never run a campaign before, not to mention running one during a pandemic. He acknowledged his lack of experience and the barriers resulting from COVID-19 may pose some challenges, but said he’s still planning to try to connect with as many people as possible to get an idea of the issues.

Coburn cited affordable housing and pushing for inclusion and racial equity as key issues for his campaign.

“I just really want to be helpful in making sure ... that as our community grows and as we try to address some of these challenges, that we are doing so in a really informed way that includes a lot of people,” Coburn said.

Getting Bozeman through the pandemic and recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 will also be a priority if he is elected, Coburn said, from helping with the vaccine rollout to supporting local businesses and making sure the city is prepared for any future pandemics. Coburn also serves on the Gallatin County COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force.

Beyond the pandemic, Coburn said he would bring a public health perspective to Bozeman’s other issues.

“Obviously we’re growing very quickly in Bozeman and there’s a lot of need for planning. And I think as a public health professional ... there’s this truth that planning and growth are at their core really rooted in public health expertise, because what we know is that we can’t really have a healthy community unless we plan for it,” Coburn said, “And we can’t really have a community that is equitable, that is strong, that meets the needs of everybody if we don’t plan for it.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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