Government

Candidates upset by rival Finkenauer's absence from forum

Jennifer Borcherding (from left) of Cedar Rapids talks with State Rep. and Democratic candidate for U.S. House Abby Finkenauer during a 1st District Candidates Meet and Greet hosted by Linn Phoenix Club at Raygun in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May. 19, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Jennifer Borcherding (from left) of Cedar Rapids talks with State Rep. and Democratic candidate for U.S. House Abby Finkenauer during a 1st District Candidates Meet and Greet hosted by Linn Phoenix Club at Raygun in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May. 19, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A flap over one candidate’s non-participation in a forum last weekend is just a last-minute attempt by a rival to “stir the pot,” according to her campaign.

State Rep. Abby Finkenauer skipped the Dubuque County Democratic Party’s May 26 forum for the four 1st District candidates because of a “long-planned family wedding activity,” according to her campaign.

But Finkenauer’s excuse doesn’t add up, Thomas Heckroth’s campaign said, because her cousin’s wedding was Friday, the day before the forum. The Heckroth campaign noted the forum was the only one in Dubuque — Finkenauer’s hometown.

It also pointed out that Finkenauer tweeted during the forum, “I couldn’t be more honored to been asked to stand up for her big day.”

The four-way race, which includes Courtney Rowe of Cedar Rapids and George Ramsey of Marion, will determine which Democrat will face Republican Rep. Rod Blum, who according to Heckroth, “has routinely ignored constituents and refused to listen to their concerns.”

“Defeating him in 2018 is going to take a campaign that’s willing to answer tough questions with straight answers,” Heckroth said. “Flipping the 1st District means running a different kind of campaign than we have in the past, one where we show up and engage people where they are. That’s the commitment I’ve made throughout this race.”

He wasn’t alone in his concerns. Ramsey said Finkenauer’s behavior is “reminiscent of what we are seeing from Blum,” who hasn’t had a public event in more than a year.

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“The 1st District already has an absent representative — we don’t need a second one,” Ramsey said. “To me, the message was a continuation of how she has failed to campaign throughout this cycle.

“It’s unfortunate that the people of this district are not her top priority during this stage of the campaign.”

Finkenauer’s campaign manager, Joe Farrell, had been in email discussions with the Dubuque County Democratic Party about Finkenauer’s scheduling conflict for several weeks. On April 5, the organizers messaged Farrell: “We sadly had to go with the 26th as a date as that date worked for 3 of the candidates. The 19th and 21st only worked for 2.”

Finkenauer “certainly meant no disrespect for the other candidates,” Farrell said, noting the candidates have participated in three other forums as well as joint appearances.

“If they had chosen another date she would have been happy to be there,” he said.

He said he was surprised to hear that other campaigns were making an issue of Finkenauer’s absence.

“It’s the last week of the campaign and I guess people trying to stir the pot,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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