116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Two rivals largely set aside friction over partisan differences to focus on their visions for making the city better when sharing their final pitches to voters in a forum ahead of Cedar Rapids’ Nov. 30 runoff that will decide the city’s next mayor.
Marking a shift in tone from previous public appearances in a Tuesday night forum, TrueNorth employee Amara Andrews called herself “progressive” but did not tout being a registered Democrat. Meanwhile, Women Lead Change Chief Executive Officer Tiffany O’Donnell stayed the course and hammered in on her commitment to keeping the role of mayor nonpartisan.
The two mayoral hopefuls emerged as the top two vote-getters from a pool of four candidates in the Nov. 2 election, neither getting the necessary 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff, but both defeating incumbent Brad Hart — who has endorsed O’Donnell as his successor.
The two candidates participated in a forum at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library hosted by KCRG-TV, the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and the Hawkeye Area Labor Council.
Andrews, a registered Democrat, said a person’s party affiliation speaks to his or her values and policies the person might support.
Describing her politics as “progressive,” Andrews said, “I consider myself to be very forward-thinking when it comes to issues of social justice and climate change.”
O’Donnell said that to her, being a registered Republican means supporting small government — that “government closest to the people works best” — but she votes “for the person, not the politics.”
To include citizens in her decisions, Andrews said she would lean on her experience organizing a grassroots movement through the Advocates for Social Justice after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, which resulted in the establishment of the city’s citizens’ police review board. She said she envisions town halls in every quadrant of the city to listen to residents.
“I’m the type of leader who’s going to be on the streets with the people of Cedar Rapids,” Andrews said. “ … It is important that we listen to the voices of all of Cedar Rapidians, but with a special eye to those who’ve been disenfranchised, those who have been ignored, because those are the voices that I would like to amplify as the mayor.”
O’Donnell said she learned as a news anchor for CBS2/FOX 28 about being an advocate for the community. She said she wants to invest in unique neighborhoods with strong neighborhood associations to collaborate with the city.
As an executive of Women Lead Change, O’Donnell said she is in tune with the inner workings of the city’s and state’s most successful organizations and would intentionally maintain relationships with leaders of start-ups and bigger companies.
“It’s important that the mayor meets people where they are,” O’Donnell said.
For new development, Andrews said she envisions a focus on mixed-use housing structures at various price points — from affordable units to for-sale condos and sustainable, LEED-certified buildings.
O’Donnell said she wanted to revitalize downtown, tap into the Cedar River as a recreational amenity and help the west side of town thrive as it is “poised to explode” with new development as flood control work is on the horizon.
Both candidates were supportive of keeping the tourism group under the local government umbrella, as the city does now with the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office, versus letting a separate nonprofit entity take charge. That’s how it previously was done in Cedar Rapids before the 2018 “newbo” evolve festival — organized by the nonprofit GO Cedar Rapids convention and visitors bureau — failed and led to the tourism group folding.
Labor union issues
The forum also addressed union issues, such as the candidates’ stances on privatizing public utilities and steps they would take to encourage the use of local labor and contractors on public projects.
In a union-represented workplace, seniority systems may be in place where senior employees have job rights over newer workers. Asked about their support for prioritizing seniority in promotions, layoffs and wages, O’Donnell said that seniority shows people likely have skills and historical knowledge that benefit the company, but she doesn’t think it should be a given.
When this question came up at the last Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Hawkeye Area Labor Council forum in October, Andrews had responded similarly to O’Donnell, saying it should be about work experience and qualifications but not an automatic guarantee. This time, she responded that “we need to reward workers who stay with a company because those workers give so much back.”
Andrews said she supports project labor agreements to encourage the use of local union workers in public construction projects, but noted limitations under state law requiring contracts for public projects be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. O’Donnell has said she would like to see information flagged on City Council documents when the city does not use local firms so she can try to address it.
The Hawkeye Area Labor Council on Wednesday endorsed Andrews. Executive Director Rick Moyle said in a statement, “It is clear to our executive board that Amara went the extra mile to learn about working family issues in Cedar Rapids and will make sure Cedar Rapids citizens are always put first.”
How to vote
The deadline to request absentee ballots for this runoff election has passed, but early in-person voting is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 29 at the Linn County Auditor’s Office, 935 Second St. SW in Cedar Rapids.
Satellite voting will be available at Lindale Mall, 444 First Ave. NE, near the play area from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22-24, noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 28 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 29.
To find your Election Day polling place and view sample ballots, go to linncountyelections-ia.gov/lookup.
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