Staff Columnist

Cedar Rapids Mayor Hart brings sunshine and dodges land mines

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart delivers the State of the City address at the DoubleTree Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart delivers the State of the City address at the DoubleTree Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

For the second-straight year, the newbo evolve festival came up as Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart offered his assessment of the state of the city.

Last year, it was a bubbly video appearance by pop star Kelly Clarkson, who said she expected to see Hart “in the front row” at her August festival performance. This time, it was the first post-speech question for Hart from the audience gathered at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. Someone wondered why the city didn’t step up to help vendors stiffed in the wake of evolve’s spectacular failure.

Tough room. This would be a really good time to cue Clarkson’s hit “Stronger.”

“We have responded to this many times,” said Hart, calmly insisting once again the festival was not a city event or under city control. “Frankly, if the city had controlled that event, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Maybe the most telling thing is not one vendor called me and expected the city to pay them. They were businesses. They took a business risk and it didn’t pay off. And I’m sorry for that,” Hart said, vowing future local events would be better managed.

“And frankly, if you talk to our tourism folks, it hasn’t impacted us,” Hart said.

He also was asked about the future of tourism promotion, after GO Cedar Rapids went down with its mismanaged festival. He said the city is envisioning a permanent tourism promotion entity with the help of “experts.” That work could be done this year, he said.

But otherwise, how’s the state of the city? Buried and glazed, you might say. The mayor was more optimistic.

“I want to remind you the first day of spring is one month from today,” Hart said, as more white retribution fell from the sky outside. His surprisingly large audience braved it.

And Hart’s speech had more sunshine than a week of spring days.

He touted “Paving for Progress” street repairs, a long list of new development projects, a raft of city programs and efforts aimed at attracting newcomers to the city’s workforce. He praised the city’s tireless efforts to fund flood protection, including the City Council’s “brave decision” to provide city funds. He didn’t mention 10 years of property tax increases. Brave has limits.

The audience was with him. For the most part.

“OK, by a show of hands, how many of you think,” Hart said, describing Mount Trashmore’s exciting future developments, “that now is the time to rename our mountain?”

Not very many hands went up. The mayor may just have to let this one go.

Even though the post-speech Q and A offered up some land mines, it also brought one of the biggest applause lines. A questioner decried the “embarrassing” state of downtown snow removal, insisting “repeated snowfalls is no excuse.”

Hart said he does get a few complaints. “But I get five times that in emails from people saying it’s remarkable what that city crew is doing. We’ve gotten a lot of snow,” he said, to loud applause.

Face it, snowplow drivers are the heroes in this buried town. What’s the state of the city? We’ll take melted.

And always remember, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Just ask Clarkson.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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