Hart wins handily in Cedar Rapids mayoral race, Vernon exits the electoral stage

Mayor elect Brad Hart hugs his mother, Alice Hart of Burlington following his election win during a watch party for him at Cedar River Landing in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Hart won the runoff election against Monica Vernon with 54 percent of the vote to Vernon's 46 percent. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

There were two mayoral victory parties in Cedar Rapids Tuesday night, but only one victor. Such is democracy. You’re either staring into your fail ale or hoisting a pint of triumph.

At Iowa Brewing Company, the atmosphere transitioned from hope to concern to resignation in 53 minutes flat after the polls closed at 8 p.m. Supporters of former City Council member Monica Vernon could plainly see the numbers weren’t going their way. Among them were some local Democrats and former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch, who picked Vernon as his lieutenant governor running mate in 2014.

Vernon’s partisan runs, including two for Congress, were an issue in the mayoral campaign. Her opponent, attorney Brad Hart, a registered Republican, insisted during the runoff race that voters shouldn’t pick a partisan politician to fill a nonpartisan job.

“I’m sorry that was a big topic,” Vernon told me. “It’s all about making progress for the citizens ... I’ll find another way to help out.”

“It’s my last campaign,” Vernon said.

Across the river at Cedar River Landing, the atmosphere was joyous. Hart’s crowd included local movers and shakers, business types and development leaders. The man of the hour was happy, relieved and overwhelmed.

“I think the message resonated,” Hart told me over the noise. “Some people said he’ll take a fresh view. Some people said he really does have the skill set to do this. Other people said, I don’t want a partisan politician. I’m sure that was part of it.”

Outside Cedar Rapids, this was seen as purely a political proxy war. Vernon was backed by local Democratic lawmakers. Hart had considerable Republican support. It’s true, partisanship likely was a significant factor. But I think it’s more complicated.

Hart’s no Sioux County Republican. And these movers and shakers who helped him raise more than $100,000 wanted a mayor who will keep the city, as Mayor Ron Corbett puts it, “open for business.” Hart’s partisan label was less important than his record serving with these same leaders on numerous nonprofit boards and fundraising campaigns. He was endorsed by 10 current and former City Council members.

Vernon’s partisan defeats dented her brand. But she also had a long council record before those runs, providing her both with experience and critics. The notion among some voters that she saw the mayor’s office as a congressional consolation prize persisted.

So change is coming. Counting Hart, the City Council will have five new members. He’s got some very good ideas already, including finding leadership roles for other candidates who ran for mayor in a large, deep and diverse field.

Other ideas are less good.

“(Council member) Kris Gulick told me we have this unique opportunity to actually have the whole council get together before January, before the new ones are sworn in, and we can meet without having a quorum,” Hart told me.

I’m all for getting acquainted, but I don’t think sidestepping the spirit, if not the letter, of the open meetings law is the best way to do it.

But, hey, this is a learning process. And the mayor-elect is just getting started.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com