Business owner Joe Gatto defeated real estate agent and longtime community activist Joe Henry in yesterday’s special election to represent Ward 4 on the Des Moines City Council. Unofficial results from the Polk County Auditor show that Gatto won by 1,687 votes to 1,283 (57 percent to 42 percent). Ward 4 covers most of the southeast side of Des Moines. The City Council seat became open when Brian Meyer won a special election for an Iowa House seat last October. Henry had begun campaigning for that Iowa House race but stepped aside once Meyer made his intentions known last August.
The Ward 4 special election campaign was not quite as bitterly contested as last year’s at-large race between Skip Moore and Chris Diebel, but it was a close call. Gatto has long lived in Ward 3 while owning a business (Baratta’s restaurant) in Ward 4. In September, after it became clear that Meyer would leave the City Council, Gatto took possession of his mother’s home in Ward 4. A Des Moines resident who works with Henry’s wife challenged Gatto’s eligibility for the race, since he claimed residence at his mother’s home rather than where his wife and children still reside in Ward 3. Gatto said his elderly mother needs help because of health problems. A three-person panel including Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie ruled Gatto eligible for the ballot. He appears to have won on a strong early voter drive; Henry’s campaign claimed to have won more votes cast yesterday. After the results were in, Gatto pledged “to focus on the real issues of Ward 4 and get to work for the people of the Ward.”