116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart tried his hand at improv, playing an angry candidate.
“Taylor, this is Brad Hart,” Hart said in a recording of a recent voicemail to CSPS Hall Executive Director Taylor Bergen. “This event you are having on Friday is a violation of your 501(c) (3) status, and it significantly damages any possibility of CSPS getting any hotel-motel tax funds from the city in the future. It’s complete bullshit, and if you don't know that you have violated your 501(c) (3) status, you should not be in the role you’re in.”
Thanks to terrific reporting by The Gazette’s Marissa Payne, Hart’s performance hit the front page on Saturday morning. The critics were hardly kind.
Hart raised a stink over what was actually supposed to be a Saturday event at CSPS with Inprov Incubator. Among those invited to try their hand at improvisation was Amara Andrews, one of Hart’s rivals in this fall’s mayoral race. She was billed as a special guest, but the event was not campaign related and carried a disclaimer indicating as much.
But Andrews did promote the event on her campaign Facebook page. Hart saw that, saw red and grabbed the phone.
So the CSPS event was canceled, although Andrews held an improv session elsewhere.
Hart apologized in a comment under Payne’s story on Facebook for not being “more calm.”
“While it was important to get the message to CSPS to protect [its] charitable status, I should have delivered the message differently. Those who know me recognize anger is somewhat out of character for me. I’m sorry I didn’t deliver the message in a more calm way,” Hart wrote.
But how important was it? Had Hart not made that call, very few people would have even known Andrews was trying out improv Saturday night. And I doubt those who did would be basing their mayoral voting decision on her performance.
But those who know Hart also know it’s out of character for him to let stuff go. I’ve seen a few of his flashes of indignation over stuff a lot of folks would simply, smartly shrug off. He carries around a fairly hefty portfolio of grievances, particularly about the media. I’m kind of surprised he wants to keep the job.
Was Hart right about the event violating rules that seek to throw up legal walls between nonprofits and political activity? Possibly. But anyone who has followed the interactions between political and nonprofit worlds knows there are gray areas. In any event, CSPS was very unlikely to lose its charitable status over this.
We can argue about whether CSPS should have invited all the candidates, or not invited any to avoid trouble.
But it wasn’t Hart’s legal analysis that was troubling, or even his lack of calm. It was his threat to use his mayoral pull to deny one of the city’s proudest arts institutions a share of hotel/motel tax funding. It was a vindictive ploy that, thankfully, backfired miserably.
Nonprofits in Cedar Rapids are facing all sorts of funding uncertainty, with the lodging tax being one major issue. For Hart to capitalize on that in order to turn up the political heat on CSPS was a shameful display of mayoral malpractice. But not necessarily out of character.
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