116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Oct. 14, 2021 10:48 am
Brad Hart, Amara Andrews, Myra Colby Bradwell and Tiffany O’Donnell are running for mayor of Cedar Rapids. ► Get to know the other candidates
Name: Brad Hart
Office sought: Cedar Rapids mayor (incumbent)
Age: 65 (born Nov. 23, 1955)
Occupation: Hart for Mayor Committee
Campaign website: hart4cr.com
Have you held office before? I am currently serving as the Mayor of Cedar Rapids, having taken office on Jan. 1, 2018
Personal bio: Brad Hart was elected Mayor of Cedar Rapids in December 2017 and took office on Jan. 1, 2018. He and his wife, Jade, have been active members of Cedar Rapids for more than 30 years.
Mayor Hart retired from his law practice at Bradley & Riley, PC, last year, after almost 40 years as a business attorney. As a committed community champion Brad has volunteered more than 20,000 hours and served as board chair for the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Young Parents Network, Horizons and United Way of East Central Iowa.
Brad’s dedication to the community has been recognized in many ways, including his receipt of United Way of East Central Iowa’s Northcott Award for Outstanding Leadership and Volunteering, the Linn County Bar Association Citizenship Award, the Cedar Rapids Five Seasons Citizenship Award, and the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Why are you running for city office?
I’m running for reelection for one and only one reason — to serve this great city. I have had the great honor of serving as your mayor since 2018. During that time, I have witnessed firsthand the generosity and resilience of this great city. I brought to the mayor’s office almost 40 years of experience as a business attorney and 30 years of serving this community in volunteer leadership roles. Now I have represented all of you as we’ve navigated through a worldwide pandemic and worked to recover from a devastating derecho together. Despite those hurdles, over the last four years we’ve kept our taxes in line, our infrastructure strong, built key sections of our flood control system, fixed our streets, significantly increased our affordable and other housing options, and issued $1 billion in building permits to help grow our economy and our tax base. We’ve increased the number of high-paying jobs and are poised for even more growth. In addition, we brought the Neighborhood Finance Corp to CR to help maintain and improve our core neighborhoods; developed a framework to address the SET Task Force initiatives; are developing ways to help integrate our immigrant populations with Gateways for Growth; worked with local advocates to increase trust in our terrific police department, and recently adopted our Community Climate Action Plan.
During the next four years, with my experienced leadership, we will keep the momentum moving forward — momentum that allowed Cedar Rapids to grow its population at almost twice the rate of Des Moines. We will continue to build our flood control system, fix our streets, develop more housing options for everyone, grow our tax base with quality jobs, and create more recreational amenities in and around the river to make Cedar Rapids the place to visit and to live to be active. We will “ReLeaf” our city and recover from the loss of 65% of our tree canopy. The best is yet to come as we fully recover from the pandemic and the derecho. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together over the past four years and I look forward to an exciting four years ahead. Thank you.
How do you rate the city’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
Our recovery from the pandemic and the derecho has been ongoing and strong. No response to the derecho could have been perfect, but the city team and our citizens stepped up again in so many ways. We will remove all the right of way stumps as quickly as possible and ReLeafCR will be a comprehensive plan to reforest our city. We are also committed to helping homeowners get back in the derecho damaged homes. In the last few years we’ve been recognized as the 15th Best Run City in America; the 4th Best City to Work in Tech; the 18th Most Secure Place to Live for mid-sized cities; No. 8 in the nation of Top Ten Cities for Living the American Dream … and more. We’ve issued building permits in the last three fiscal years totaling more than $1 billion, increased our affordable housing stock, multifamily and single-family options, fixed miles of our streets, built key segments of our flood control system, and much more. It should be noted that Cedar Rapids’ population in the last 10 years grew by 9%, while Des Moines’ population over that period only grew by 5%.
What are the three largest issues facing the community and what will you do to address them?
Recovering from the pandemic and the derecho — we created the BACK program (business and community kick-start) to help small businesses obtain consulting work from local professionals to cope with the business changes of the pandemic. We are funding the PATCH program to help homeowners who were uninsured or underinsured repair their derecho damaged homes. As mentioned above, we are working hard to remove tree stumps, repair sidewalks damaged by those trees and reforest our community.
Building our flood control system as quickly as possible is a must, and is a commitment of each council member. We constantly try to work through funding issues, Army Corps planning issues, land acquisition matters and qualified contractors who can do the difficult work. With each completed segment we have more protection, but until it is finished there is still risk none of us want to take. We may use some of the city’s ARPA funds to speed up work on the west side of the river.
Workforce development has been an issue for more than a decade and will continue to be as we keep growing our tax base and the number of jobs available here. We will work with our employers and Kirkwood, and we will provide financial resources for young people to gain the skills needed to find quality employment. We will continue to incent a variety of housing options, including affordable and workforce housing. The state’s recent incentive for that housing is already at work in Cedar Rapids. We will also continue to fix our streets and create amenities that will help attract and keep employees here.
What do you see as priorities when it comes to the city’s economic development? What areas do you think the city has the potential to grow in? What are most at risk? What would you do about it?
Our priority is first and foremost quality jobs for our citizens. That means helping existing businesses grow and attracting new employers to grow our tax base and our job base. We have significantly increased the number of jobs since the pandemic began, as well as seen a large capital investment by existing companies and new ones. Having reasonable, effective and transparent economic incentives has been important for our growth, and that practice has encouraged developers from outside Cedar Rapids and Iowa to come to Cedar Rapids, too. Our strong manufacturing and agricultural base, as well as our insurance, medical, finance and engineering sectors provide a diverse business climate that has and will help us withstand downturns in different parts of our national economy. We will work to create “green” jobs needed to meet our Community Climate Action Plan goals, too. There will always be a risk that corporate headquarters outside of Cedar Rapids will make decisions that impact their operations and employees here. We will continue to connect with our business community, keep our taxes in line, our infrastructure strong, our cost of living low and our sense of community high so that if decisions are made to relocate or close a facility here those employees will choose to find other employment and stay in Cedar Rapids.
How should the city facilitate more affordable housing options for buyers and renters?
We are and have been incentivizing affordable house options, along with other housing options. That is why our units of affordable housing have grown over the last few years. We are committed to using some of the city’s ARPA funds to further develop affordable housing, too. The derecho damaged or destroyed some affordable housing units but some have been repaired and others are on their way. The recent state program to provide incentives for workforce and affordable housing will help four Cedar Rapids projects already selected for funding through that new program. We expect more affordable and workforce housing projects in Cedar Rapids will qualify for the state program, too. When possible, we encourage infill, and do require sidewalks, trial connections, green space, stormwater runoff plans and more. These units are usually along bus routes, too. We were recently ranked as having one of the lowest residential rental rates in the country, but there will always be more to do.
If you were forced to cut the city’s budget, how would you approach these reductions? What areas would you look to for savings and why?
Cedar Rapids has a balanced budget with strong reserves. We have a AA bond rating, which is the second strongest rating and allows us to borrow/bond at very low rates. If the last few years we’ve refinanced some existing bonds to take advantage of lower rates, which is saving the city millions of dollars in interest payments. If we need to reduce our budget, despite the strong financial position we are in, we likely would begin by asking each department to reduce its budget by the needed percentage. We work hard to make sure we don’t have areas of our operations that aren’t important or have budgets that could easily be reduced or eliminated, so looking at a percentage reduction across the board makes sense. Of course, there may be areas that should not be cut and others that might be able to withstand a larger cut so we would need to take a close look at each area.
The city and Linn County Emergency Management each completed after-action reviews of their respective derecho response. Should the groups work together to develop a regional plan? What other improvements need to be made to the emergency response plan and what will you do to advance the conversation?
Cedar Rapids hired an independent third-party to prepare and after-action report to gain the insights and experience from that reviewer. We have or will implement the suggested improvements so this community is better prepared for the next natural disaster. We are already part of the Linn County Emergency Management Agency and coordinate some of our emergency planning already. However, in part due to the pandemic reducing available staff, and in part due to the difficulties in communicating during and immediately after the derecho, some coordination failed. We need to compare our after-action reports and determine how and where we can improve. I am certain each entity is willing to take the steps necessary to better prepare for the next disaster. Working together should be a priority.
The city recently unveiled its climate action plan. Do you support the plan and the idea of net zero carbon emissions by 2050? Are there other things you’d like to see the city do to address climate change?
I fully support the recently adopted Community Climate Action Plan. The plan is aggressive and calls for action by the city, homeowners, businesses and industry. Representatives of each of those groups participated in developing the Plan, and that involvement shows the commitment needed to make a difference. The Plan is comprehensive already. Having regular updates on the progress toward the goals, as well as continuing to monitor changes in technologies and strategies that might improve our efforts will be important, too.
What should the city’s state legislative priorities be and how would you help advocate for them?
Our legislative priorities are being developed right now, so these could change, but some of the priorities should be: continue to fund the workforce and affordable housing tax credits recently put in place; provide funding for job training and infrastructure; increase the state historic tax credits to help make it financially possible to restore and maintain more of our historic buildings; restore home rule rights to cities and counties; decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana; leave Tax Increment Financing alone as it is one of the final economic incentive vehicles available to cities; increase the newly created fund that helps reforest communities impacted by last year’s derecho. We may consider asking the state to provide some of its ARPA funds to us in exchange for future years’ funding from the GRI (growth reinvestment initiative) to pay for our flood control system. Decriminalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana should also be on our list to help young people stay out of the criminal justice system.
Are there quality of life improvements that could be made in the city? What are they and how would you fund them?
We will continue to build our trail system and connect it with the other trials in and around Cedar Rapids. Clearing the timber areas of our parks after the derecho is important, as well as replanting the tree canopy in our parks. ConnectCR will be a great addition to our amenities, and it is funded already. It will utilize our existing lake, much of our trail system and Mt. Trashmore! Redeveloping the Jones Park Golf Course into pickle ball courts, state of the art Frisbee golf, ice skating, snow sledding and more will be great. I hope we can add a skating rink to many of our parks so kids can walk to skate. The river recreation study with canals around the 5-in-1 Dam will be an amazing amenity and attraction. We need to determine how to fund that effort, but I suspect grants and one or more state programs may help with that need.
What steps should the city/city council take to address gun violence?
To begin, we have a top-notch police department working hard every day to address gun violence. Gun violence is an issue throughout our country right now. Our PCAT program builds trust between our officers and the neighborhoods to which they are assigned. We worked to create a vehicle to address the SET task force initiatives, with the help of the GCRCF and in partnership with the county and the school district. That effort supports programming for our youth in a direct effort to keep them out of trouble and away from guns. This Spring we brought a new program, Group Violence Initiative (“GVI”), to Cedar Rapids to deal directly with those in our community involved in violent crime. This initiative has been successful in other cities across the country and the early reports show it is working here, too … helping to keep young people “safe, alive and out of prison.” Our Police Chief and his department play a major role in this effort. I, along with the rest of city council, fully support this program. The newly created Citizen Review Board is intended to build more trust between our Police Department and the public. More trust will help us solve and then reduce gun violence here.