Staff Editorial

Endorsement: A solid field vies for three Cedar Rapids City Council seats

Downtown Cedar Rapids in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Downtown Cedar Rapids in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Three Cedar Rapids City Council seats are up for grabs in competitive races.

Three candidates are running for a pair of at-large seats, including incumbent council member Ann Poe, labor union leader and small business co-owner Pat Loeffler and Jorel Robinson, a GoDaddy employee and community advocate.

Two candidates are running for the seat in District 2, which represents a long swath of the city stretching from Robins to the north through parts of the northeast and southeast side to Bever Park’s southern boundary. Incumbent council member Scott Overland faces Sofia Mehaffey, director of community health and nutrition with Horizons.

The good news is voters have five strong candidates to choose from ahead of Election Day on Nov. 5. The bad news is choosing from such a diverse, accomplished field was extremely difficult.

• Loeffler: A passion for working with people and businesses

• Poe: Experience and knowledge to keep C.R. growing

• Robinson: Time to work together and be fearless

At large

Poe is seeking a third term and has been a central player in the city’s efforts to recover and grow since the aftermath of the flood of 2008. Loeffler brings a varied background to his campaign for the council, having worked at times as a reserve police officer, delivery driver and most recently as a leader with Carpenters’ Local 308 and as president of both the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building Trades Council. Robinson, who ran for mayor in 2017, is a foster parent and volunteer who brings a new perspective in, as he puts it, “age range, demographics and point of view.”

All three are solid candidates. Our endorsement goes to Poe and Robinson.

“I want to show young people we don’t have to wait to get involved in politics,” Robinson told our editorial board. “If you care about your community, you want to see certain things done, there’s a process and there’s no reason not to be a part of it.

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“I’m as real of an everyday person as you’re going to get running for City Council,” Robinson said.

As a council member, Robinson wants to focus on strategies to curtail gun violence, improve the city’s transit system and direct more resources to underused parks and neighborhood recreation facilities. Robinson already is part of an effort to revamp and light 21 basketball courts across the city.

He made headlines calling for Cedar Rapids to take the lead in reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, arguing state lawmakers should listen to Iowa’s second-largest city.

“To me, it makes sense to be the leader,” Robinson said.

Among Poe’s top priorities is infrastructure, in particular flood protection. Poe, who grew up along the river on the city’s west side, is concerned the accelerated pace of federally funded protection measures on the east side could leave the west side behind.

“We must keep pace,” said Poe, who brings knowledge of the city’s road to recovery from her years with the Rebuild Iowa Office before joining the council in 2012. “It’s got to be a top priority for our community.”

That institutional expertise on an array of issues, including economic development and housing, could prove valuable on a council that’s seen considerable turnover in recent years.

Loeffler impressed us with his commitment to addressing climate change, including stepping up efforts to provide habitats for butterflies, birds and pollinators in the city. “I think every city should have a climate plan,” he said.

He also argues the city should be more selective as it awards incentives to development projects. Loeffler supports stepping up efforts to make repairs and upgrades at Ellis Harbor and backs extending the local-option sales tax for street repairs.

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• Mehaffey: Collaboration can lift up local families

• Overland: Great progress, but much remains to be done

District 2

By far, our toughest endorsement call this fall comes in District 2.

Overland led the charge to create the Neighborhood Finance Corporation in Cedar Rapids, providing critical dollars for reinvestment in the city’s older neighborhoods, and has brought a measure of expertise and competency that’s become critical on the council.

Mehaffey told us how she lifted her family from poverty with the help of community cooperation between nonprofits and for-profits working together to provide remarkable opportunities. Now a leading voice in the city’s nonprofit community, she wants to bring her valuable experience and community perspective to the City Council.

In the end, Overland’s record on initiatives this editorial board has supported was the difference, and he earns our endorsement.

After years of talk in Cedar Rapids about establishing a Neighborhood Finance Corporation, Overland got the job done. He’s also supported a series of welcome city environmental efforts, including requiring builders to replace topsoil on finished construction sites and raising stormwater fees to provide an incentive for runoff control measures.

If he wins a second term, Overland said he wants to focus on educating the community and figuring out strategies for addressing urban flooding in the same older neighborhoods where the NFC is investing.

“These neighborhoods weren’t built for this. They weren’t built for these big storms … all of the runoff that comes off that,” Overland told our board.

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Mehaffey also wants to focus on neighborhoods and their needs, from better sidewalks to transit to street repairs. “People really feel like their neighborhood is not getting the attention it deserves,” she told our editorial board.

Mehaffey would also like to see the city do more to include residents in the city’s planning processes, pointing to the debate over the Cargill rail yard.

Overland is our pick. But both candidates are well-equipped to serve.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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