With the Iowa City Council primary two weeks away (Tuesday October 9th), it is becoming clearer to me about the differences between the at-large candidates in the pool. Since it is no secret that I am a Populist and a Progressive, some of what I say will reflect this perspective. The forum that was held Sunday by the organization I am chair of, FAIR! and Democracy for America and Sierra Club addressed many questions that I and others have (and sadly, many questions are left to be answered). The candidate pie can be sliced a number of ways, but here are three factors I use to gauge candidates:
1) Innovation v. Conservation: When a city has finite resources, how will the candidate favor spreading them furthest?
2) We (the People) Market v. Free Market: To accomplish the goals, will the candidate favor public or private sector solutions?
3) Forest v. Trees: In thinking about prioritizing needs of the community, is the candidate present problem focused or "big picture" focused.
For me, the ideal candidate would lean more to the conservation side, trying to reuse resources in a way to get more mileage from them. Innovation would stem from using public and private resources to creating efficiencies or new services. Also, the ideal candidate would use both private and public sector solutions, wielding the public policy stick firmly for goals like human services and affordable housing. Finally, I favor candidates that think of current problems through the big picture lens; placing band-aids on gaping wounds is not the way to go. Prioritizing needs (with public input) should be the first step that any city council should make.
Lastly, and this is a disclaimer, where a candidate seems to hang their hat, should matter. Not only where in the community they live, but also with whom they affiliate.
Based on these criteria (and each with a disclaimer), the candidates that stand out for me are:
Mike Wright, Brandon Ross:
Challenger Mike Wright, a first time candidate, comes from a neighborhood leadership perspective (He was the neighborhhood leader in Longfellow and now in the Northside Neighborhood), is serving on the Board of Adjustments (which is where zoning decisions go when there are exceptions to existing rules), and has been a long-time supporter of historic preservation. He is not flashy, but he is is thoughtful, articulate, and public-service oriented. He supports public processes and balances private and public needs well in his philosophy. Disclaimer: In fairness, I have known Mike a while because of our participation in the Neighborhood Council and have donated to his campaign and advised him.
Challenger Brandon Ross comes from a more progressive perspective than Mike and is more idealistic in his beliefs about sustainable community. However, as I look at the current council, I see Brandon as a good fit, because he would bring a different community-oriented perspective and is articulate and respectful in conveying his ideas. He would be one of three council candidates who does not live or work directly downtown, so he is more sensitive to other community needs, He has run twice before (once at-large, once in district B) so it is not possible to dismiss him as a "not serious" candidate, though his manner is admittedly more casual. He is principled in his approach and straight forward in speaking. Disclaimer: In fairness, I also have known him for a while. Brandon supported my candidacy and I did play on the Preemptive Strikes softball team with him this summer. I have offered advice to him.
Why Not Hayek, Smith, or Vanderhoef
Challenger Matt Hayek, a first time candidate, is a principled candidate. I appreciate Matt as a good listener and thoughtful about how he would represent the community. Where I hesitate to support him fully is on policy matters, as he is more middle of the road on important issues like affordable housing and downtown development. Matt has shown great community leadership, both with the Englert Theater and with the Housing and Community Development Commission, under which he headed the taskforce that looked at scattered site housing. Matt is more of a pragmatist than a progressive, but does believe in social justice, as he represents some non-profit organizations in the community. Disclaimer: In fairness, Matt and I are Unitarian Universalists, so I know him inside and outside the political realm and he is a highly likeable guy. I also offered him advice.
Challenger Terry Smith, a first time candidate, is involved and intelligent. I respect him as he has been with Mid-American Energy for 27 years and worked himself up the chain of command. He has been on both the Telecommunications and Planning and Zoning Commissions and is invested in the community with Junior Achievement, Goodwill Industries and other organizations. Unfortunately, for better or worse, Terry is connected to the development community in a way that is hard for him not to reflect their values over other community members. With Mike O'Donnell on the council acting as a voice of the Chamber of Commerce, Terry does not offer a different voice. With the need to meld public policy with private interests, Terry is unlikely to be dispassionate about how the council decides issues. Disclaimer: In fairness, I have not had a pure social interaction with Terry, although I did visit with him and his union foreman at Mid-American when I ran in 2005 and had a great conversation with him then.
Incumbent Dee Vanderhoef has been one of my favorite council members for one reason, she is a excellent source of information about issues in front of the council. On a personal level, I admire and respect her in part for being one of the few council members who asked good questions about the development that became the Plaza Towers. She does her homework and has a mind for detail, that is for sure. With regard to vision and ability to get her point across to other members of the council, I believe she has had a lack of success. Generally, I see her as supporting the status quo, but on issues like parks and recreation, she is more progressive. She has served the community well in her twelve years, but a more cooperative and effective voice is needed. Disclaimer: In fairness, I called on Dee when I ran for the council and have found her to be quite helpful in talking about issues.