Cedar Rapids Mayor hopefuls talk jobs, streets, taxes

8 candidates seeking open seat

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Economic development is the No. 1 job for the mayor of Cedar Rapids, said candidate Gary Hinzman, 70, a former 6th Judicial District Department of Corrections director.

Hinzman, who is one of eight candidates, was speaking at a Cedar Rapids mayoral forum focused on economic development and jobs on Thursday night. It was hosted by Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, and Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Area Labor Council, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

“How we look to people from the outside makes a big difference on whether businesses want to stay and grow here or whether they want to come here and locate here to begin with,” Hinzman said. “We need to take care of the amenities that are important to you as taxpayers and citizens, but it also attracts other people here to add to our tax base.”

Other candidates are Kris Gulick, an accountant and District 1 City Council member; Brad Hart, 61, an business lawyer at Bradley & Riley; Scott Olson, 71, a commercial broker and District 4 City Council member; Tim Pridegon, 61, a pastor; Jorel Robinson, 30, a productivity specialist at Go Daddy; Lemi Tilhuan, 27, a clothing retailer with a background in political activism; and Monica Vernon, 59, a businesswoman and former City Council member.

Hart said he wouldn’t rule out privatization of certain municipal services if it meant big savings and no layoffs. He said he’d tread carefully because of the anxiety it would create for municipal workers, which with 1,400 employees is one of the largest employers in Cedar Rapids.

He also addressed how he’d approach labor unions, which have seen rights eroded under state changes to collective bargaining.

“It’s going to be difficult for communities and school districts to keep good people here when they were so restrictive in what they can bargain for,” Hart said. “I would support the city continuing to bargain for all of the permissible items that can be bargained for under the legislation.”

Such a large field increases the chances the winner won’t be decided in the Nov. 7 city elections. If no candidate for mayor receives more than 50 percent of the vote that day, the top two vote-getters head to a Dec. 5 runoff election.

This is a race for an open seat since Mayor Ron Corbett announced he would not seek re-election as he runs for governor instead.

Other Issues

Tilahun, who identified getting youth involved as his top priority, addressed the possibility of extending the 1-cent local-option sales tax currently devoted to street repairs, saying he does not favor an extension, and especially not to pay for flood protection. The tax expires in 2024.

“We must find an alternative solution,” he said, adding that if the tax is extended, it should continue to go to streets.

Gulick spoke of being an ambassador to recruit new business and help existing businesses expand, and advocated for a diligent, deliberate approach to governing where the city develops and sticks to its strategic plans.

“We need to create spaces and places in the community where people who lived in Cedar Rapids and left and came back and say a lot has changed in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “The way to keep people in the community is creating spaces people can enjoy.”

Robinson spoke of developing programs to attracting young population as key to growth, rather than “nickel and diming” residents through initiatives, such as traffic cameras. He said he hopes to be a role model to spur youth to get involved in what happens in Cedar Rapids.

“A great man once said if you don’t like what is happening, get a clipboard. And that’s what I did,” Robinson said. “I went door to door. I got the signatures. Cedar Rapids can be very innovative. We can take this city to another level. I’m young. I’m energetic. I’ve got good ideas.”

Streets, Housing

Vernon vowed to go visit neighborhoods — two a month — to provide status reports, particularly on street improvements, which she identified as her top priority.

“I don’t think the citizens have had a great report on that or very often,” Vernon said. “I think things are happening, but you are the stockholders. You are paying that tax, so every single year we need to tell you, ‘Here’s what happened. Here’s how much we’ve collected. Here’s what we’ve done with it. Here are some of our challenges, our whoopsies if you will. Here are things that went faster than we thought. And, here’s what we are planning to do next year.’ ”

Olson said he wants to address affordable housing needs by reactivating the Affordable Housing Commission, creating a staff position to go after grants and work with developers to create affordable housing options, and devote $500,000 a year to incentivize affordable housing projects.

“It’s creating a mind-set throughout the community that everybody deserves decent housing,” he said.

Olson, who voted against a high profile affordable housing project earlier this year, justified his vote because of the opposition of his district — District 4 — but said he likely would have approached the decision differently as mayor and would have likely supported it.

Pridegon spoke of helping and loving one another. He advocated equal pay for women.

“If they work, if they show up on time, and possess a good attitude, and if they do what is pleasing and right, they should be paid just as a man is paid,” he said. “I believe in fairness, and I’m a man who believes in equality.”

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

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