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Monica Vernon and Brad Hart back to square one in race for Cedar Rapids mayor

Both plan renewed campaigning, fundraising in lead-up to Dec. 5 runoff election

Cedar Rapids mayoral candidate Monica Vernon makes a phone call while waiting for results at Iowa Brewing Co. in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday. Vernon was the top vote-getter on Tuesday and will compete against Brad Hart, who finished second, in a Dec. 5 runoff. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Brad Hart and Monica Vernon went to sleep Tuesday night as the big winners in the Cedar Rapids mayoral race, but woke up Wednesday morning starting from scratch with less than a month until a Dec. 5 runoff election decides the contest.

Vernon, 60, a former City Council member and businesswoman, and Hart, 61, a business lawyer, each met with top advisers on Wednesday to begin mapping out a strategy for the next several weeks.

“I don’t look at it like I won in round one,” Vernon said. “I look at it like, ‘OK, here’s where we start on Wednesday morning.’ I never take anything for granted. I have to earn all of these votes all over again.”

Hart plans to continue what he’s been doing because it moved him from fourth or fifth in internal polling in early September to second on Tuesday, he said.

“We’ll stay on message, work to get my name out, door knock, do TV and I’ll attend all public forums and events,” he said.

Vernon had a clear lead when the votes were counted Tuesday night, racking up 30 percent of the vote and 34 precincts compared to 20 percent and five precincts for Hart. Hart topped Scott Olson by just 64 votes to qualify for the runoff.

Olson said he will wait for the results of the vote canvass to decide whether to seek a recount. The recount deadline initially was posted for Friday, but instead is Monday due to the Veterans Day holiday.

Vernon said she plans to continue grass roots campaigning, including phone calls, door-to-door outreach to voters, and following up with voters she met leading up to Tuesday’s election. She will replenish yard signs and do some fundraising, she said. She has $9,351 cash on hand as of the most recent filing period, which ended Oct. 28.

Vernon, who served two terms on City Council and before that 10 years on the city’s planning commission, identified her experience as the biggest differentiator between her and Hart.

“I can go in day 1 and get things rolling,” she said. “When you have more experience, you can be a stronger mayor. I know how to work with city staff and the city manager, which helps provide better checks and balances. This role isn’t management; it is leadership and driving forward what we do in the future.”

Hart, who has worked for more than 27 years at Bradley & Riley, points to his civic experience, saying its given him at least as much understanding of community as anyone else.

“I’m a servant leader, and I always have been,” he said. “I’ve lead a dozen community organizations or causes. I was required to lead a group of people, a board, and move it forward.”

He too plans to fundraise; he had $4,548 cash left after the most recent filing period.

The Runoff

The runoff election is a much different race then a general election.

For one, only two candidates are in a runoff whereas eight competed in the regular election, leaving more space in forums, media and voter’s attention spans to get to know the candidates and for the candidates to articulate their positions and differences.

Also, Vernon might appear as the front-runner given her lead in the regular election, but runoffs can have drastically different outcomes. Hart points out that 70 percent of voters did not support Vernon, and he has a chance to appeal to them to swing to his side.

“Our message is working,” he said.

In 2013, Chuck Swore, an incumbent, earned the most votes — 24 percent — in a seven-person race for two at-large seats in the regular election, but finished last among four candidates who qualified for a December runoff.

Runoffs have occurred periodically for at-large and district seats in Cedar Rapids. In fact, newcomer Ashley Vanorny, 32, will go head-to-head with incumbent Justin Shields, 75, in a District 5 City Council runoff on Dec. 5 after neither received 50 percent plus one vote on Tuesday. This is, however, the first mayoral runoff the Linn County Auditor’s Office is aware of.

In 1992, two candidates emerged from 11 in a June primary to replace long serving Mayor Don Canney, who resigned midterm. In a special election in July, Larry Serbousek earned 68 percent of the vote and won every precinct to defeat Wayne Murdock to become the city’s first new mayor in more than 20 years.

The result marked a drastic reversal from the primary, in which Murdock took 54 percent and won all but one of the precincts outright.

More than 36 percent of registered voters showed up for the July special election making it among the strongest turnouts in the city’s history.

Turnout is Tough

Historically, turnout in runoffs has been extremely low. In 2013, the regular election garnered 23.3 percent turnout while the runoff saw an 8.75 percent turnout. Tuesday’s election had a 20.29 percent turnout.

“It’s in December, nobody expects an election in December,” Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said in explaining low runoff turnouts.

Plus, voters may stay home if their candidate lost, attracting interest after Thanksgiving is a challenge and winter weather can be a deterrent to voting.

Miller said he plans to send out a postcard reminder for the runoff.

“My vision is every person should be engaged in local government, and it is hard to be engaged if you don’t know there’s an election,” he said.

Miller said given the low turnout, runoff candidates typically focus on voters who always show up to vote. That could mean trying to draw from the same base, he said.

The 2013 runoff cost $67,073, while the 2017 runoff could reach $90,000, Miller said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Tale of the Tape

Monica Vernon

Age: 60

Key issues: Examine the prioritization and timeliness of street repairs; flood protection for both sides of Cedar River; diversify economy and responsiveness to needs of existing businesses; quality of life including strong infrastructure, entertainment offerings and cultural amenities.

Key experience: Two terms on City Council, 10 years on Planning and Zoning, leadership roles in several civic organizations.

Key endorsements: Several labor unions.

Fundraising: Received 227 contributions, most of eight mayoral candidates

Cash on hand: $9,350.89

Election Day results: 5,352 votes, or 30.34 percent, and 34 of 44 precincts.

Brad Hart

Age: 61

Key issues: Better prioritize street repairs and communicate progress; support start-ups and retain and recruit new businesses to promote economic development and job growth; seek an extension in the state growth reinvestment initiative to help pay for flood control, and expand housing options.

Key experience: Co-chaired the fundraising campaign for the new Cedar Rapids Public Library and served in leadership roles on several civic organizations.

Key endorsements: Current Council members Ralph Russell and Justin Shields.

Fundraising: Hart topped eight mayoral candidates with $91,355 in contributions.

Cash on hand: $4,548.46

Election Day results: 3,593 votes, or 20.37 percent, and 5 of 44 precincts.

About the Runoff

When: Tuesday, Dec. 5

Polls: Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Early voting: Anticipated to start Nov. 20, but will depend on whether a recount is requested. Early voting will be at the Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The office is closed Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

Absentee ballot: These can be requested by mail, and forms can be found at linncounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3702.

Voting locations: Voters may find their voting location at linncountyelections.org/lookup.

Gazette forum: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, in Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

MAYOR FORUM

What: One-on-one interviews, questions and answers and a lightning round of issues in a mayoral candidate forum organized by The Gazette

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 21

Where: Whipple Auditorium, Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE

Cost: Free, but register at thegazette.com/crmayor