Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart wasted no time Wednesday in addressing those of us hoping to hear or see, or write about, something “unusual” in his first State of the City speech.
“Remember, it took Ron eight years to come up with that idea,” said Hart, recalling former Mayor Ron Corbett’s musical swan song a year ago, complete with a band and rousing rendition of “Sweet Home Cedar Rapids.”
OK, so no band. And, as a source of column fodder, Hart’s speech was sort of bland. But, hey, that’s not all bad, given all the drama we’ve seen around these parts over the last decade.
And if you followed his 2017 campaign for mayor, it was the sort of speech you’d expect Hart to deliver. He spent the campaign praising the city’s considerable progress, post flood of 2008, its open for business economic growth policies and heroic community efforts to halt the flood of 2016. Hart ran vowing to keep the momentum going and to protect progress made, not to bring big ambitious changes or dramatic new directions.
So he spent six-and-a-half pages of a nine-and-a-half-page speech recounting successes from the city’s last decade. For his big, Convention Complex audience, filled with elected officials, community leaders and business executives, many of whom supported his campaign, it was a medley of greatest hits. Who needs music?
“I have unending confidence in the future of Cedar Rapids,” Hart told the crowd of roughly 600 people. “The Cedar Rapids journey is picking up speed.”
His list of “next steps” was shorter. He is developing a Mayor’s Youth Council to receive ideas and input on issues from young residents. That’s smart, given the number of city candidates who ran in 2017 insisting the voices of young people are being ignored in City Hall.
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He’s calling for restructuring boards and commissions in an effort to encourage more involvement. Hart is reviving the city’s Affordable Housing Commission and argued the city must do more to provide a variety of housing options. The Neighborhood Finance Corporation, providing loans for home purchases and repairs, will receive $1 million from the city over five years.
He mentioned addressing racial bias, homelessness and poverty. Hart expressed optimism in the face of uncertainty spawned by mergers involving major employers, including Rockwell Collins. He expressed a commitment to work with the Cedar Rapids Community School District on its far-reaching facilities plan.
Hart remains convinced a trip by city leaders to the White House on Feb. 12 had a real, positive effect on the long, frustrating quest for federal flood protection funding.
Quality of life projects, Hart said, such as Cedar Lake and the Sleeping Giant/Smokestack pedestrian bridge remain on the horizon, along with bike-sharing stations.
Hart also touted newbo evolve, a “signature event,” he said, bringing well-known musical and creative talent to the city in August. And he got some celebrity assistance with his pitch, via video.
“So Brad, I expect you to be in the front row, so don’t disappoint me,” said singer Kelly Clarkson, who is scheduled to perform at newbo evolve. She didn’t sing, either.
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