DAVENPORT — State Sen. Joe Seng died Friday after a long battle with brain cancer, the state Senate Democratic caucus announced.
He was 69.
A Davenport Democrat, Seng has been a popular Quad-City political figure for more than 20 years. He also was a noted veterinarian who had a wide a range of business and charitable interests and was active in the Catholic church.
Seng’s passing means a special election must be called to fill his seat. He won re-election to his seat in 2014, so he was not facing re-election this year. His district, the 45th, includes much of west Davenport.
Seng revealed in the fall 2014 that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, but he said at the time he was determined to seek treatment and continue in the Legislature for as long as he was able.
He served through the 2015 and 2016 sessions with the assistance of his wife, Mary, whom he wed last year. Lawmakers gave the both of them an extended ovation before the session ended this spring.
Colleagues on Friday remembered Seng as a kind man who cared about people, especially those who had little.
“It’s a tremendous loss to our community and to the Senate as a whole,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “He had a big heart.”
Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, recalled Seng’s dedication to his veterinary practice and to the people who brought their pets to him, often without the ability to pay.
“He had such a big heart. It didn’t matter if you could pay or not,” Lykam said. “If you went to Doc Seng, your pet was going to be taken care of. That was just Joe.”
Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said Seng would be “missed immensely, here and at the Capitol.”
In addition to his veterinary practice, Seng had a fondness for playing the accordion and preserving historic buildings. He also was the driving force behind the former Marquette Academy, a small private school.
Seng came onto the political scene in 1993 with a late entry into the race for Davenport mayor. He lost that year, but it would be one his few political defeats. Two years later, Seng won a seat on the Davenport City Council, where he served until winning election to the Iowa House in 2000.
In 2002, he won a seat in the state Senate, where he easily won re-election since then.
Seng challenged U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack in the Democratic Party’s 2012 primary, but lost. At the time, Seng said his candidacy was animated by his concern about a range of issues, including what he considered intrusions by the Obama administration on religious liberty.
In a statement Friday, Senate Democratic leaders recalled a man who bravely faced his illness.
“Joe Seng lives his Catholic faith through his words and actions,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said. “He was a friend, a colleague and a good person.”
Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, noted that Seng “cared deeply about the families and neighborhoods in his district.” She also said “we owe a debt of gratitude to his wife Mary, who was by his side every step of the journey.”