Hart and Vernon to face off for Cedar Rapids mayor in runoff

Only 64 votes keep Olson from making the cut for the Dec. 5 runoff

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Former City Council Mayor Pro Tem Monica Vernon, who left municipal politics in 2015 to run what became an unsuccessful run for Congress, will face lawyer Brad Hart in a runoff next month to pick the next mayor.

Vernon, 60, was the clear leader in Tuesday’s election with all precincts reporting unofficial results, securing 5,352 votes or 30.34 percent. Hart, 61, a lawyer with Bradley & Riley, ended in second place with 3,593 votes or 20.37 percent.

That was just 64 votes ahead of Scott Olson, 71, a commercial broker and District 4 City Council member who also ran for mayor in the crowded field.

“I had such great conversations with people all over the city and I think this is reflective of that and we just going to keep going, keep talking to people and listening to people,” Vernon said.

Vernon and Hart both said with just two candidates — as opposed to the eight who ran for the seat — it will allow more space to dive deeper into issues, explain positions and draw distinctions.

Hart said he was pleased to make the cut for the Dec. 5 runoff, which became necessary when no candidate received a majority of the vote. He immediately will hold a strategy session.

“I’m guessing it will come down a lot to someone who’s led more organization and is stronger in understanding of strengths and weakness of the community and doing this for wanting to serve the community,” he said. “And, someone who will be viewed in Des Moines and Washington, D.C., not as an ally or an enemy depending on the political party but an advocate of Cedar Rapids. I am not a political animal.”

Vernon ran twice a Democrat for Congress.

Vernon and Hart both listed street repairs, securing flood protection and economy and job creation as top priorities.

Olson, who will retain his District 4 seat, said he most likely will not seek a recount but had not ruled it out. He said he would decide quickly so the runoff process could proceed.

“I’ll visit with the Linn County election people to determine if that is needed of if that is warranted. I don’t think it is, but they say that is what you should do if the vote is this close,” Olson said.

He said he was disappointed, but said he was glad the campaign stayed positive and drew a good cross section of candidates.

The vote canvass is Thursday; a recount must be requested by Friday.

Two-term Mayor Ron Corbett’s announcement last year that he would not seek a third term opened the door for the largest mayoral field in 25 years. Corbett is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Others in the field included Kris Gulick, 58, a certified public accountant and District 1 City Council member; Gary Hinzman, 70, a former Department of Corrections director; Tim Pridegon, 61, a pastor; Jorel Robinson, 30, a productivity specialist at GoDaddy; and Lemi Tilahun, 27, a clothing retailer with a background in political activism.

The race remained relatively low key with little infighting and few calls for major change in a city that has seen major strides in redevelopment and growth in the past four years, particularly in downtown. Candidates staked out positions with nuanced differences in how to develop a costly flood control system, approaches to working with top businesses in light of potentially losing the Rockwell Collins headquarters and use of tax breaks to spur development.

The new mayor will lead a major turnover in the nine-member council, which will see four new faces Jan. 2 when new four-year terms begin. The part-time mayor position pays $35,378.46 this year.

Dave Kieler, 68, said he made up his mind in the final days to support Hart.

“I am familiar with some of them and what they have done, and I knew I didn’t want them,” Kieler said after voting at Westminster Presbyterian Church. “I get real tired of these politicians that get into office and stay there a long time.”

For all of The Gazette's Election 2017 coverage, please visit our election coverage center.

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