116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A dust up involving Mayor Brad Hart, CSPS and mayoral candidate Amara Andrews hit the front page last weekend. It gave us a glimpse into the tensions bubbling up from a competitive mayoral race that are certain to make more headlines as the campaign moves toward fall.
Andrews was set to be a special guest at an improv event at CSPS Hall. It was not a campaign event, and CSPS included a disclaimer on materials promoting the event confirming its political neutrality as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.
But Andrews promoted the event on her campaign’s Facebook page. Hart caught wind of that promotion and left an angry voicemail message for CSPS Executive Director Taylor Bergen. The mayor argued that Andrews’ participation would jeopardize the arts organization’s nonprofit status and city funding to CSPS through the hotel/motel tax.
“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,” Hart said, according to a report by The Gazette’s Marissa Payne.
CSPS canceled the event. Hart stood by his legal claim that the event would be inappropriate, but later apologized on Facebook for not delivering his message in “a more calm way.” Andrews held an improv event at another location.
Everybody could have done better.
Andrews made a mistake in promoting the event on her campaign Facebook page, giving it the air of a political event that CSPS specifically sought to avoid. CSPS and its partners should have steered clear of hosting and promoting an event with only one mayoral candidate in a three-person field. Improvisation shouldn’t extend to following the rules set out for nonprofits.
Still, Hart's response to the situation was way out of line. He's the one with actual power, and he aggressively threatened to wield it against a political foe.
Hart’s threat that the event would have a bearing on CSPS’s city funding was particularly jarring. It smacked of politically motivated retribution and was entirely inappropriate. Hart’s much stronger case that the event ran afoul of rules barring political activity and should not be held was undermined by this angry warning.
The election still is three months away. We understand this is a contest between candidates who are very active in the community, including work with nonprofits. It’s a race for a part-time position, so cutting all ties isn’t feasible.
But there are rules that must be followed, so the candidates should take care to avoid conflicts of interest and putting nonprofits in an uncomfortable, perhaps illegal, position. How they handle their campaigns, and moments of tension, will tell us a lot about what sort of mayor they’ll be.
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