Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Locals Only: The State Of The City Election

Warning, state/national readers: Local stuff here.
Jim Throgmortion made his re-election bid official today, pulling a crowd of 30, not bad for a workday noon hour. The announcement laid out a framework for a race whose lines are already taking a pretty clear shape: a great extent we Iowa Citians have also lost our way. We stand at a crossroads, conflicted over which direction we want to go in the coming years.

Two contending visions might guide the way.

One vision might be called “Boomtown.” Those who rely on this vision claim that cities like ours must compete with other cities, both near and far, to attract businesses and a “creative class” of Internet-savvy workers. Guided by a desire to expand the economy and increase the tax base, this Boomtown vision has been invigorating parts of our city in ways that many people like. And those who benefit most directly from this vision claim that all we need to do is stay the course. If it ain’t broke, they say, don’t fix it.

But for far too many Iowa Citians, our city is broken! For them, the Boomtown vision accommodates the interests of a few while ignoring those of the many. It’s rapidly changing the city they love into a place that will soon be unrecognizable.

The second vision might be called the “Just City.”

Those who share this Just City vision believe that Iowa City should be good on the ground for all, both now and in the future, and that the long-term health of the community depends upon it.

The Just City vision would lead to a city that is substantively democratic, economically healthy, affordable, and resilient. It would lead to a city in which all residents know in their bones and in their daily experience that City government works for them too.

Rather than keep replaying this conflict, as if we have learned nothing, we should turn the best of the Boomtown wealth, energy and creativity toward building a more Just City.
Also making the lines clear: two other candidates showed up not as rivals but as allies: Rockne Cole, running in the same vote for two At Large race that Throgmorton is in, and John Thomas, running for the District C seat that Throgmorton now holds.

(Explaining Iowa City's convoluted district system is a whole `nother post, which I've written before and will likely have to write again. Short version: The districts matter more at candidate recruitment time than at election time.)

Throgmorton stopped short of endorsing Cole and Thomas, but made it clear he though highly of both of them.

Slates have historically been frowned on in Iowa City elections, but they're also historically been a de facto reality. People generally know which candidates are the "progressive machine" folks and which are the "Chamber of Commerce/townie" folks, and they DEFINITELY know which if any are students.

This year the lines are taking shape quickly, though the District C race is a bit different. Thomas, a retired landscape architect and member of the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission, so far faces construction company owner Scott McDonough. Normally, "construction company owner" is a surefire sign of a Chamber candidate, but McDonough has some interesting sidebars like Habitat for Humanity, the Englert Theatre board of directors, and Johnson County Affordable Homes Coalition. Both are first time candidates. Still time for someone else from the northside, downtown, or Miller-Orchard (NO. I am NOT.) to get in. This is where most of the students are but there may not be a niche here.

Throgmorton, a retired urban and regional planning professor, was such a prohibitive favorite in District C in 2011 that he cleared the field and won unopposed. He also won a half-term in 1993 and stepped down after two years. Cole, an attorney, finished fourth of four in the 2013 race, but it was a strong respectable fourth and not a distant last.

So far, Throgmorton and Cole face Michelle Payne, a classic Chamber candidate who works for Mid-American Energy. She won a narrow, low turnout race in 2011 mostly be keeping quiet, setting up pink yard signs (she was the only woman running) and most of all by by not being 20 years old like main rival Raj Patel. And she's been pretty quiet on the Council too. letting Terry Dickens and Susan Mims (whose terms aren't up this year) do the talking and then voting with them.

Mayor Matt Hayek is not running again this year. I supported him when he first ran in 2007. 21 Bar was up for the first time that year and he took a Let The Voters Decide position. But when the voters decided to keep 19, he not only asked for a do-over, he led the fight, which was a townie vs. student culture war disguised as a "public health" issue. So I didn't support him in 2011. He's rumored to have higher ambitions; I won't back him for those either. Yeah. Still mad.

The godfather of 21 Bar was Rick Dobyns. The self-righteous MD lost a 2005 at large race, led the 2007 21 effort to defeat, then won the District A seat handily in 2011 over radio's Captain Steve Bridges. On the council he tends to talk moderate and then vote with the conservative majority. Dobyns is running again. He is as yet unopposed and needs an opponent badly. Needs to be someone from the west or south side, and preferably someone who adds a little diversity to the race.

Direct election of the mayor never really got off the ground in the charter review discussion. But with three like-minded colleagues - Kingsley Botchway also holds over - Throgmorton could find himself Der Burgermeister in January. Better him than Terry Dickens...

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