Iowa City race is about diversity and downtown

If debt and development are the themes of this year’s Coralville city elections, the focus in neighboring Iowa City is on two different Ds: Diversity and downtown.

As in Coralville, the issues have been bubbling up for some time, with a core group of residents feeling unheard in their displeasure at recent council decisions.

Immigration attorney Rockne Cole’s sunflower-emblazoned yard signs have been popping up all over the city’s historic near-Eastside neighborhoods.

Cole, currently one of the leaders in Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow’s lawsuit against the city’s proposed high-rise development on downtown’s eastern edge, says he’ll step away from the suit if he’s elected, and put people, not buildings, first.

“I think there’s no greater duty than to make sure all citizens of the community feel welcome,” he told Gazette Editorial Board members in a recent candidate interview. A sentiment that was echoed by others in the race.

Though not officially a slate, Cole’s name frequently is uttered in the same breath as fellow University of Iowa law school alumnus Kingsley Botchway II, who recently chaired an ad hoc committee studying city relationships with minority populations.

They’re joined by District B candidate Royceann Porter, a case manager at Shelter House with years of community and civil rights advocacy under her belt, and who says the city can do more to support all residents by funding adequate public transportation, encouraging development of affordable housing and making sure city-subsidized businesses are paying a living wage.

And they stand in stark contrast — on paper, at least — to candidates, such as incumbent Terry Dickens, running this time for a District B seat, and downtown business owner Catherine Champion, whose mother, Connie, is getting ready to step down after finishing her fourth term on the council.

Although Catherine hasn’t been ignoring any of the grass roots concerns that drive many of her opponents, she’s clearly more comfortable talking about commerce, and specifically retail — her expertise.

Only incumbent Susan Mims defies (admittedly crudely drawn) lines between the two camps.

Should Iowa City Councilors worry about people, or about buildings? Obviously they have to do both.

And we’ll find out soon enough how well residents, as a whole, think they’ve managed to balance the two.

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