After an election season unlike any other in this town’s – and probably Eastern Iowa’s – history, Coralville voters Tuesday chose to stick with the status quo.
And that earned congratulatory phone calls from Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke Tuesday night with mayor-elect John Lundell and City Council member Tom Gill, who won re-election.
The message in his five-minute conversation, Lundell said, was “to congratulate Coralville for smashing Americans for Prosperity, and he was really proud of our city.”
Americans for Prosperity is a national organization founded by the conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. It spent more than $30 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama and Biden’s re-election bid last year. Its Iowa chapter sent mailings, knocked on doors and made phone calls this fall critical of Coralville incumbents.
It brought national attention to the nonpartisan race in this town of 20,000 people, including a front-page story in the New York Times.
Also elected Tuesday was incumbent Bill Hoeft and challenger Laurie Goodrich, who shares many of the views of the other three electees.
The election was seen as a referendum on the city’s controversial financial practices and also a pivotal moment for the city’s future: elect incumbents and like-minded candidates who support the direction the city is headed, or bring in challengers critical of the existing state of affairs.
The latter group, led by Mark Winkler, Chris Turner and Dave Petsel for council and Matt Adam for mayor, were unable to win over enough voters with their calls for significant change in how the city does business.
“I think it’s an affirmation that everybody is happy with way the city is going,” said Gill, a council member since 1987.
With 65 percent of the vote, Lundell easily beat Adam (27 percent) and two other candidates, according to results from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. Results are unofficial until the canvass of votes Nov. 12.
Hoeft led the way among the eight council candidates with 56 percent, followed by Gill (51 percent) and Goodrich (40 percent). The next closest challenger was Winkler at 34 percent.
The number of voters, 2,820, and the turnout rate, 24 percent, were the highest for a Coralville election in records on the Auditor’s Office website dating to 1979.
In addition to Americans for Prosperity, the campaign featured a Des Moines political operative working with a local group to recruit candidates and help with their campaigns, prominent Republican political figures and fundraisers and even a private investigator.
“I think what happened was, it really ended up blowing up in the outsiders faces,” said Hoeft, who won a second term on council.
Tuesday’s results likely means there will be no major shifts in city policy, but the city still has a sinking bond rating and the highest per-capita debt in Iowa to deal with.
Gill said those are issues residents and city officials want resolved, and he said the hiring of a consultant this summer to improve the bond rating shows the city is working toward that.
Lundell, a City Council member since 2003, will succeed 18-year incumbent Jim Fausett, who chose not to seek re-election.The mayor serves a two-year term and does not vote with the council but has veto power and sets the agenda. City Council members serve four-year terms.