Iowa City faces quietest election ever
The 2007 Iowa City election was like no other in city history, as a massive wave of student voters was pulled to the polls with the gravitational force of a black hole by a ballot initiative that would have kept those under 21 out of bars.
The student vote defeated the 21 bar issue, and on the surface, the 2009 election breaks out along the same Town vs. Gown lines, with Long Time Resident candidates Susan Mims and Terry Dickens facing students Jeff Shipley and Dan Tallon.
Had student candidates run in 2007, we could have two to four students on the council today. Should the 25,000 students, unrepresented in city government since David Perret left office in 1983, have a say? I say yes, and that's why I've already voted for Shipley and Tallon.
But the October 6 primary gave us a snapshot of the race in progress: record low turnout and a huge Mims and Dickens lead over Shipley, Tallon, and a third student, Jared Bazzell, who was eliminated.
Without the bar issue, student involvement in the election is fizzling. The deep pockets of bar owner Mike Porter, who financed the No on 21 vote, have been absent from the 2009 race.
Student solidarity is in tatters as well. The Daily Iowan endorsed Mims, along with Talon, in the primary, and Bazzell bizarrely endorsed Dickens after his loss.
All this could change next week. Bazzell's legacy to the November election is the seven campus-area early voting sites he petitioned for. The rules are different than in 2007, since Iowa now has election day registration.
Yet it's unlikely any of these sites will see anything approaching the 945 students who voted at the Burge Hall site in 2007. By this point in 2007, 3,800 ballots were in the box, fueled by campus voting. This year (as of Friday) only 132 were returned.
In the weeks leading up to the 2007 election, Iowa City voter registration among 18 to 24 year olds increased by 4,500 voters. But this year, in the seven weeks since the school board election, 18 to 24 year old registration has actually declined.
Progressives, distracted by Janelle Rettig's supervisor campaign even before the too-soon death of Larry Meyers, are also sitting this one out. They failed to recruit candidates, and all eyes are on the supervisor appointment instead.
Dickens and Mims, for their part, are playing it smart. They've raised huge amounts of money—Dickens had nearly $16,000 before the primary--and seem focused on getting their own supporters out. No one has indulged in any gratuitous student-bashing, which is so 2007, anyway. Iowa City's new scapegoats are Chicago People If You Know What I Mean.
Champion vs. challenger
Lost in the Town-Gown narrative is the District B race, where Mark McCallum is left hanging. McCallum, like Dickens and Mims, was recruited to the race by the Chamber of Commerce, and the wide assumption was that three-term council member Connie Champion was retiring. Three terms has been an informal voluntary limit. Dee Vanderhoef tried for four in 2007 and lost.
But Champion surprised folks by not stepping down. She's been an important swing vote and won some surprise liberal support after opposing the Wal-Mart rezoning. In an open seat race McCallum might be a strong contender, but against Champion he's an underdog.
(Note: this story also appears in today's Press-Citizen.)