Iowa City progressives are attempting a full City Council sweep in next week’s election.
Two years ago, Iowa City voters elected the “Core Four” — a slate of left-leaning candidates, each aligned with each other. There are now five left-leaning votes on the council, and three more next Tuesday will give the progressive coalition a whole seven seats.
Incumbent candidate Susan Mims finds herself in a peculiar position. She’s a longtime Democrat and one-time Bernie Sanders caucus supporter, but now somehow she’s being called the right-wing candidate in her race for one District B seat. Mims is seeking her third term on the council, one of only two candidates on the ballot this year running outside the progressive slate.
Mims agrees an unhealthy divide has emerged on the council since the last election, between what some see as the progressive majority and the centrist minority.
“We have gotten to a place in Johnson County where if you’re not 100 percent in lockstep with a group, then they see you as an outsider and as their enemy and they want to get rid of you,” Mims told me this week. “I think that’s unfortunate because we can’t sit down and have good reasonable discussions about why we have the views we have and honestly try to listen to other people and hear their views and how they differ from our own.”
I’m worried we are inviting voters to be lazy by running slates of candidates for local office.
If the progressive slate prevails on Tuesday, Iowa City will have a council full of members who are openly associated and politically indebted to one another. That looks more like a presidential cabinet than the municipal legislature it’s supposed to be.
We already know unanimous government has bad outcomes. A few years ago, many of us were frustrated that the council seemed in lockstep in support of business and real estate interests. Back then, we could clearly see the toxic results of an ideologically unified city government.
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The progressive candidates rightly point out, despite their political alliance, they do have a great difference in expertise.
“I would say there’s still a diversity of thought and background even if us seven were to be on the council. We have an architect, a nurse, an attorney, a community organizer, a student. Even the term progressive is so broad, nebulous term right now that even Susan Mims has declared herself as a progressive, which many folks in the community would argue otherwise,” said Ryan Hall, Mims’ District B opponent.
Still, the leftist all-star council would be sorely lacking the economic expertise that Mims, a professional financial planner and former School Board member, exhibits.
“People think I’m only concerned with the finance standpoint, partly because nobody else on the council talks about it. But if you don’t keep your financial house in order, you can’t do things like affordable housing or transportation or any other essential things,” Mims said.
No matter who wins this election, the leftists will have a majority. The question before voters next week is whether the council table has room a moderate voice.
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