So P.T. Larson is back on the ballot. If his name rings a bell, you know that’s no surprise.
Larson ran in 14 Cedar Rapids city elections between 1987 and 2011. He ran for mayor four times, the last time in 2009. He lost every time, 0-14.
This fall, Larson is running for mayor of Fort Dodge, the town where he grew up and returned to in 2014. He’s taking on incumbent Mayor Matt Bemrich.
“This is a winnable election,” Larson told me last week.
I first met Larson when he was running for a Cedar Rapids City Council seat in 2007. He was a knowledgeable candidate, a little on the intense side. A civic warrior undaunted, but rarely lighthearted.
Still, in 2009, he showed up to a mayoral forum with rivals Ron Corbett and Brian Fagan wearing a purple shirt bearing the words “Mr. December.” Larson was convinced if he could just get to a December runoff, he would, at long last, prevail.
It didn’t quite work out. Corbett won easily with 62 percent of the vote. Larson received just 422 votes, or 1.8 percent. He ran one more time in 2011, finishing third in a three-way race for a seat held by former Council member Monica Vernon. In 2013, he declined to run again.
“I’ve been called the Cubs of local elections,” Larson told The Gazette’s Rick Smith.
That’s now the world champion Chicago Cubs. Could Larson’s curse be the next to end?
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In Fort Dodge, Larson is running on a public safety platform. He’s been critical of a deal between Fort Dodge officials and Unity Point Health to provide ambulance service. Larson thinks the Fort Dodge Fire Department would do a better job. He calls Bemrich a “corporate mayor” while Larson promises to be a “people’s mayor.”
Larson’s experience has been an issue. His critics point to all those losses and contend he has no actual government experience. Larson, who counters he’s a veteran of 14 “election cycles,” disagrees.
“I come from the City of Five Seasons, 25 years of local government experience,” Larson said last month on KVFD radio’s “Devine’s Intervention” program.
I bring this all up for a couple of reasons. One is to update the where-are-they-now files. Done.
But, also, I think Larson was ahead of his time. He ran for office from well outside the social, civic and economic circles where we usually find our city leaders. His desire to address issues he cared about was undeterred by long odds. Sure, 14 runs into hurricane headwinds was excessive, but it’s a free country.
Now, we find ourselves at a moment when lots of folks jolted by tumultuous times and worried about the future of their communities are getting involved. It’s time to get off the sidelines and put their names on a ballot.
In Cedar Rapids, there are 19 candidates for mayor and City Council. It’s a remarkably diverse group, including newcomers undeterred by long odds. More than a few candidates say they’re running because too many voices are being left out of local debates.
It’s welcome and healthy. Voters have many choices, thanks to people with the guts to run. Meanwhile, in Fort Dodge, we’ll see if the 15th time’s a charm.
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