Friday, November 11, 2011

Number Crunching University Heights

Someone needs to write a book, or at least a good long journal article, about the Battle Of University Heights. Development battles are always the nastiest fights in local politics, and in the surrounded west side enclave, an entire generation of Zoning War has been distilled into one lot. The Build It or Don't feud between neighbors was battled to a stalemate Tuesday, with a margin of two votes for the last seat.

Both sides in the fight over redevelopment of the St. Andrew Church property - in a supreme irony, the church is the city's polling place - had tightly organized, clear slates of candidates. The WeR4UH side opposes the One University Place plan; the U H Moving Forward side supports it.

Even though all five seats were up (UH is now the last city in the county with two year terms) both sides deliberately ran slates of just four candidates. The Votes Per Voter number - in a vote for more than one race, add up all votes then divide by number of voters - was 4.08, meaning (approximately) 92 percent of voters left a spot blank. The trend was even more pronounced for early voters; an amazing 96 percent only voted for four.

(The Votes Per Voter number is imprecise and just an estimate. Doesn't mean EXACTLY 8 percent voted for five, because some folks could have voted for three, two, even none. Donald Baxter proudly threw the stats off by 0.2% by declaring a pox on both houses, leaving the council race blank, and just voting for the library levy.)

All other things being equal, WeR4UH seems to have a 20 to 30 person edge in a maximized electorate - 60 percent turnout, just short of gubernatorial levels, for a third straight record breaking turnout. But all other things are not equal and the WeR4UH margin is less than the individual strengths and weaknesses of candidates. It was the tiny handful of ticket splitters, five vote voters, inadvertent mistakes, and other miscellany that decided the election - or, rather, produced an improbable split decision despite the polarization.

I call the sides "party" below but there was no simple way to vote a straight ticket. You had to know it to get it right, but a quick drive (or, for Donald, a bike ride) through town would make the task easy.

McGrath (I)WeR4UH141145286
Hopson (I)WeR4UH139145284
Leff (ex-ICCSD)WeR4UH135141276
Haverkamp (I)U H Moving Forward17995274
Lane (ex-appointee)U H Moving Forward17198269
Yeggy (I)U H Moving Forward16189250
WhitmerU H Moving Forward15690246

WeR4UH won the early vote (236) roughly 60-40, while U H Moving Forward carried the slightly larger election day vote (298) by a less precise margin.

The WeR4UH vote was slightly more solid, with a 19 vote gap between first place Brennan McGrath and sixth place Rachel Stewart. On the U H Moving Forward side there were 28 votes separating fourth place Mike Haverkamp from last place Amanda Whitmer. The absentees - more decisive, ready to vote NOW - were more solid for both sides than the election day voters.

On both sides, first time candidates ran the weakest. WeR4UH elected 2009 winner McGrath, January special election winner Rosanne Hopson, and Jan Leff, a well-known former school board member. (Her husband Al, who was also on the school board, narrowly lost the 2009 mayor's race.) The low vote getter for WeR4UH was newcomer Rachel Stewart.

U H Moving Forward re-elected Haverkamp and elected Jim Lane, who had briefly served on the council as an appointee before losing the special election to Hopson. (I spotted a handful of houses with Lane signs next to the WeR4UH sign, and just one or two of those was enough to make the difference.) Incumbent Pat Yeggy lost, and first time candidate Whitmer finished last - but with 46% and just 40 votes behind frontrunner McGrath.

Despite the division, UH residents agreed on one thing: the library levy was renewed with 79%.

Two other cities set turnout records: Shueyville, with multiple write-in candidacies and a one vote margin, and Tiffin, where banker Steve Berner defeated incumbent mayor Royce Phillips.

I haven't had the heart to seriously number-crunch the Iowa City contests, though a short version of my wee hours of Wednesday post is in today's print Press-Citizen. One factoid: 28% of voters either skipped the Rick Dobyns-Steve Soboroff District A race or cast a write in. 43 percent did the same in District C, but that's not unusual in an uncontested race.

And little Aredale in Butler County, population 74, has shown up Iowa City by electing an 18 year old mayor.

1 comment:

Alice said...

One part of the story if it is ever told is that "Forward UH" ran a stealth campaign, again. In 2009, the special election in January and again this fall, those candidates did not come north of Melrose to talk to voters. They did not do city-wide mailings. By keeping their campaigning to one-on-one they were able to tell voters things that the other side could not address. It was only by chance that some of their more flagrant inaccuracies (like McGrath wanting to get rid of the police department) were discovered and could be addressed.

In 2009, there was no development proposal on the table, but the winners felt they had a mandate to pursue it. In the special election there was no mention of a TIF but again, despite Lane's loss the OUP supporters continued to let Maxwell push it forward.

The pro-OUP side had a simple message: coffee shop, grocery store and lower taxes. Maxwell has already admitted there will be no coffee shop. He refused to commit to a grocery store like Plaza Towers, even to get a TIF, so we can suppose he won't do that either. All that is left is hypothetical lower taxes, which would not kick in until the project and TIF were done, if then.