Government

Battle lines drawn as Cedar Rapids mayoral race heats up

Relationships forged over years driving endorsements from City Council members

Downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — City Council member Ralph Russell on Tuesday announced his support of Brad Hart in the Cedar Rapids mayoral race.

The endorsement — coupled with council member Justin Shields’ support of Hart, a local business attorney — marks the latest splinter in a sharply divided council over who should be the city’s next mayor. The nine-member council is split in at least five directions.

Russell and Shields are in the camp for Hart. Ann Poe is supporting Monica Vernon. Susie Weinacht is backing Gary Hinzman. And, two council members — Scott Olson and Kris Gulick — each have their own interests in mind as they run for the seat being vacated by Mayor Ron Corbett, who announced he would not seek a third term and instead run for governor.

Tim Pridegon, Jorel Robinson and Lemi Tilahun round out the eight-person mayoral field.

Councilors Pat Shey and Scott Overland, along with Corbett, are the only members not declaring who they support.

The division over who should be mayor is largely due to relationships forged over the years, Corbett said.

Weinacht, for example, was involved in youth programming when Hinzman led the 6th Judicial District Department of Corrections, and Hinzman helped run her last campaign, Corbett said. Shields and Hart worked together on passing a local-option sales tax referendum earlier this decade. Poe has worked on Vernon campaigns at the local and federal level, and Vernon played a key role in Poe running for City Council, she said.

“I think there’s just some long time friendships that are coming into play,” Corbett said. “There’s a lot of personal relationships.”

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“This is a small town” Poe said. “You can’t live here and work here and grow up here and not have those bonds.”

Poe said whoever gets elected will do a good job.

“We’re all going to work for the betterment of the community,” she said. “I don’t see any of this affecting us beyond the election.”

Corbett said hard feelings are likely regardless of who wins, but at least at the local level elected officials move on quickly.

“After a few months any wounds of an election disappear and people move on,” Corbett said.

Corbett noted that when he first ran for mayor in 2009, several of the sitting council members, including Shey and Gulick, supported Corbett’s opponent Brian Fagan. They put their differences aside to get business done, he said.

Shey pointed out he, too, was on the short end eight years ago when he left his at-large seat to challenge and ultimately defeat Jerry McGrane in District 3. At least two council members and Corbett came out in support of McGrane, he said.

“I think it is too easy to create divisions in council when people pick sides,” Shey said. “Some cities are plagued by such divisions. We certainly have not had that problem. Moreover, I have always thought endorsements were of little value.”

Shey, who is not seeking re-election as his term expires at the end of the year, pointed out that he didn’t receive The Gazette endorsement in his past two elections yet won “overwhelmingly.”

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Gulick said whether or not someone holds a grudge will depend on the person. He has made it a policy not to seek or make public endorsements, including in the Corbett-Fagan race, during his time on council.

“Relationships matter when you get elected and that is why you don’t want to damage them before you even get started,” Gulick said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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