Friday, June 05, 2009

Iowa City race taking shape

Iowa City council race taking shape

Iowa City's last two city elections have both smashed turnout records, but those votes were driven by referenda: the 2005 public power meltdown and the 2007 21 bar failure. This year, it looks like the council is the only game in town. Could we see three open seats?

With Mark McCallum's entry into the District B race, the business/conservative slate seems to be set, which likely means that incumbent Connie Champion is stepping down after three terms.

At-large Incumbent Mike O'Donnell is also finishing a third term, and isn't expected to run. O'Donnell never won big in his three bids, surviving a 58 vote squeaker in 2001 over Leah Cohen of BoJames, and lost to Rod Sullivan when he tried to move to the Board of Supervisors in the 2004 Democratic primary.

Three terms seems to be an unwritten limit. Former mayor Ernie Lehman served three terms, progressive Karen Kubby served one year shy of three full terms. No one in the 34 year history of the current district and primary system has served four, and when Dee Vanderhoef tried for a fourth in 2007 she barely made it through the October primary and was last place in the October general.

Susan Mims, a former school board member, and downtown jewelry store owner Terry Dickens are already in as the likely at-large conservative slate. Yes, we have another member of the dwindling downtown retail community running. That's the traditional source for candidates like Lehman of the defunct Enzler's leather goods, Vanderhoef of Iowa Book and Supply, and Champion of Catherine's clothing.

Things are quieter on the progressive front; Amy Correia is stepping down after one term and the only candidate getting mentioned is Colin Hennesey.

Council races are officially non-partisan. But Iowa City elections typically break out on left vs. right lines, with patterns clear year after year and precinct by precinct. Areas that did well for, say, progressive council member Mike Wright in 2007, also did well for Obama a year later.

Mims and Dickens are both registered Democrats, while McCallum switched from Republican to No Party earlier this year. Many members of the business-conservative community stay registered as Democrats to participate in decisive primaries for courthouse offices.

For some reason, the City Council always draws a bigger field of no-chance self-starters than any other local office, and an October primary hasn't been avoided since 1991. Conservatives have usually done a better job uniting early than progressives have; the left has seen primary fights like Jim Throgmorton vs. Mona Shaw in 1993, Regenia Bailey's successful primary challenge to Irvin Pfab in 2003, and Brandon Ross vs. Wright in 2007.

Next: The platform I'd like to see.

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