Staff Columnist

A tale of two speeches in Iowa City

Mayor's annual update mixed optimism with division

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks during a city council work session at the Iowa City City Hall on the prospect of becoming a sanctuary city on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks during a city council work session at the Iowa City City Hall on the prospect of becoming a sanctuary city on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

It was a good speech, it was a bad speech.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton delivered the annual State of the City address to fellow council members and the public this week. His quoting of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” seemed appropriate, since the speech may as well have been written by different mayors — an pragmatic statesman at the start, but a hyperbolic politician by the end.

The first part of the speech gets a glowing review from this conservative commentator. Throgmorton delivered a strong case for the city’s financial and administrative health, backed up by a long list of accomplishments.

Our population is growing and our unemployment is among the lowest in the nation. Major public infrastructure projects are newly completed or underway, like the First Avenue railroad underpass and the Dubuque Street elevation. The city has also cleared the way for an enormous amount of private development, including badly needed rental units.

It was a strong rebuttal to the naysayers who predicted growing influence of the progressive wing in city politics would lead to mismanagement and economic ruin.

Throgmorton also explained what he sees as the city’s greatest challenges, including racial equality, affordable housing, and climate change.

Even when I disagree with the city’s policy agenda, I usually appreciate my elected leaders’ thoughtfulness and civility. However, the closing of Throgmorton’s speech this week was an exception.

Throgmorton blamed the results of the 2016 election for thrusting Iowa City and the nation into a Dickensian metaphor. Without mentioning the party or the politicians, Throgmorton complained about mostly unspecified Republican policies he says “are undermining the values that make Iowa City such a great place to live.”


“We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way,” Throgmorton said of 2017, quoting the opening of Dickens’ famous novel.

I did not vote for Trump and I also have plenty of complaints about the Republican policy agenda, but I highly doubt it’s productive or effective for the city’s top political leader to suggest one party is sending the country straight to hell.

It’s worth remembering about 8,000 of Throgmorton’s constituents in Iowa City voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and more than 11,000 voted for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley. Are those people welcome in Iowa City?

“Our council and I as mayor try to reflect the views of the significant majority of people. We are here to represent the public, and they voted each of us into office and we have deliberated about various things, we have views, we express them,” Throgmorton told me this week.

I have no problem with elected leaders making thoughtful criticism of state and national policies they don’t like, but that portion of Throgmorton’s speech did not rise to the level of thoughtful criticism.

As Throgmorton himself said, “These are not normal times. This is no time for fighting among ourselves.”

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