Corbett belts out the blues, but few clues

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In my line of work, politicians offering a song and dance are hardly surprising. But after Wednesday’s Cedar Rapids State of the City speech, I’m prepared to revise conventional wisdom.

At the end of his roughly 45-minute talk, Corbett called the members of the local band Crankshaft to the stage. Soon, the mayor was belting out “Sweet Home Cedar Rapids” to the tune of “Sweet Home Chicago.”

This was the “big surprise” Corbett promised in December when he announced he won’t seek re-election as mayor. Corbett arrived sans his usual necktie. The stage was set up to rock the house. Dead giveaways.

It was not conventional. Wise? I think so. But I needed a column.

Nearly 700 of the city’s top movers and shakers and gawkers witnessed the spectacle. Some smiled. A few clapped along. Some looked bewildered.

“I know it’s a bit unusual,” Corbett said.

So the Blue Zone city has a Blues Brother for a mayor. Go figure.

But, now, is he on a mission for guv?

Good question. Anyone hoping the “big surprise” would involve a big announcement regarding the mayor’s clear gubernatorial ambitions was disappointed. There were only brief nods to speeches he’s been giving in places such as Pocahontas and Mason City, among the 60-plus counties where’s he’s pitched the work of his Engage Iowa think tank. The ground is cultivated, but his hat remains outside the ring.

Corbett instead delivered a Cedar Rapids speech, dedicated to the major lessons he’s learned in nearly eight years as mayor. He talked of a community recovered, businesses welcomed, towels not thrown in and community pride stoked by success and adversity. Corbett said the city’s “to-do list” remains hefty, and he joked about the growing list of candidates lining up to seek the job he’s leaving.

Its most emotional moments came as Corbett described his growing fears last September as the Cedar River rose again. He recounted sleepless nights, flowing tears and fervent prayers.

And you doubted he could sing the blues.

“I don’t know if you are religious or spiritual, but I am,” Corbett said, recounting how he “cried out to God,” worried about the city’s fate and what he could say to reassure citizens. Those prayers were answered by trucks hauling sand and scores of volunteers filling sandbags, the mayor said.

Corbett praised the City Council and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, lamenting the impending ending of their mayor-manager relationship. After all, they’ve been like the Elwood and Jake Blues of City Hall for years.

But could the band ever come back together?

“Something tells me we’re not done working together,” Corbett said.

With that, Corbett and Pomeranz sneaked out the back and jumped into a car. Corbett declared “It’s 127 miles to Statehouse. We’ve got a full tank of gas. A think tank full of policy papers. It’s sunny, but we’re not wearing sunglasses.” “Hit it,” Pomeranz said.

No, that last part didn’t happen. Yes, I’ve seen “The Blues Brothers” too many times. But, you have to admit, that would have been a really big surprise.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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