Promising to be a "voice for strong neighborhoods and strong schools," defending local interests and fighting harmful state policies, Josh Mandelbaum confirmed Thursday night that he will run for Des Moines City Council against 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley. I enclose below the audio and full transcript of Mandelbaum's first campaign speech, along with background on the candidate and a map of Ward 3, which covers west-side neighborhoods south of University Avenue and much of the south side.
I've been acquainted with Mandelbaum since before he was a policy advisor for Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson. More recently, I've closely observed his work on renewable energy and clean water issues through our mutual involvement in Iowa environmental circles. I'm an active supporter of the non-profit Environmental Law & Policy Center, where Mandelbaum is a staff attorney. Last year Midwest Energy News named Mandelbaum to its "40 Under 40" list of list of “emerging leaders” working on “America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” He was one of only two Iowans to receive that recognition.
Even if I couldn't personally vouch for Mandelbaum's talent and work ethic, I would be excited to see a progressive willing to take on this incumbent. Hensley's 2015 vote to extend a tax abatement program was indirectly a vote to benefit her employer. Timothy Meinch reported for the Des Moines Register at the time that the city attorney "warned of an 'appearance of impropriety' and 'potential of a conflict of interest'" before Hensley "cast a pivotal vote in favor of developers." Des Moines Cityview's Civic Skinny column explained here how Hensley's deciding vote benefited Midwest Housing Equity Group, "an Omaha-based firm that syndicates and sells tax credits from developers" where she "is a director and paid consultant."
Hensley has given Des Moines residents plenty of other reasons to look for new representation. Mandelbaum covered several of them in the remarks I transcribed below. Her most egregious act was joining the small board of directors of the Orwellian-named Iowa Partnership for Clean Water. This advocacy organization grew out of the Iowa Farm Bureau's desire to discredit the Des Moines Water Works, which delivers drinking water to half a million central Iowans, including all of Hensley's constituents. My theory is that Hensley hitched her wagon to this cause in the hope of becoming Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett's running mate in the 2018 race for governor. Whatever her motives, she chose to stand with Big Ag against her own city's utility, despite evidence connecting farm runoff with high nitrate levels and toxic algae blooms that threaten the local water supply.
This year Hensley urged the city council to support legislation that would disband the Des Moines Water Works. The bill is widely understood to be retribution for the Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa (see the first part of this post). Mandelbaum spoke against House File 484 at a public hearing earlier this month; scroll down to view the video.
Taking on an entrenched incumbent is always an uphill battle, especially for a first-time candidate. Hensley will raise a ton of money. Even so, this race is winnable for Mandelbaum. City council elections are low-turnout affairs. Hensley didn't have a challenger in 2005 or in 2009 and defeated Cal Woods by 3,536 votes to 2,248 four years ago.
Ward 3 "has an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and has a D+20 performance index," Pat Rynard noted last month. The Water Works issue alone is highly salient for Des Moines residents. A large number of teachers and public workers live on the west and south sides of Des Moines, as do many progressives interested in economic and social justice. If Mandelbaum can tap into outrage over statehouse Republicans destroying collective bargaining rights and lowering the minimum wage in Polk County, don't bet against him turning out a few thousand Democrats who have never voted in a local election before. He won't be able to match Hensley's fundraising, but with Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell co-chairing his campaign, he should raise enough money to get his message out to Ward 3 residents.
This race will be one of the most important local elections in central Iowa this November. Please spread the word.
Josh Mandelbaum's remarks at the Our Future--Iowa Starting Line event in Des Moines on March 23:
Thank you, Pat [Rynard] and to the Iowa Starting Line for putting on a great event. And I really want to call out the Iowa Starting Line. It's such an important voice on so many issues that matter to all of us. We need more voices like that.
I want to thank each and every one of the folks I'm sharing the stage with tonight. [Iowa Democratic Party first vice chair Andrea Phillips, Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Blake, State Representative Abby Finkenauer, State Representative Todd Prichard] I know that we can do so much better than what we're seeing from our political leadership at all levels now, and each and every one of you prove it.
And I also want to thank every one of you for being here tonight on a Thursday evening and supporting this event, and demonstrating that together we can build a better future. It's that idea of a better future, that's what I'm here tonight to talk about, and it's why I am excited to announce that I am officially a candidate for Des Moines City Council Ward 3. (prolonged applause)
I'm also pleased to announce tonight that former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell will be my campaign co-chairs. They have been great friends and mentors to me over the years, and they've been tremendous leaders for our community, our state, and our country. I'm honored to have their support and their vote this fall.
Early in my career, I worked in the Vilsack-Pederson administration as a policy adviser, and I saw first-hand how government run well and government focused on the people it serves can make a significant difference in people's lives. City government is the form of government that's closest to us all, and a well-run city has the potential to make a difference in people's lives every single day.
But no form of government can be well-run without listening to the people it represents. Des Moines needs voices and elected officials that represent our interests, our concerns, and our values. And if you're like me, you've probably seen a few things recently where our concerns, our interests and our values just aren't being represented. And that's particularly true at the intersection of state government and local government.
For example, when the legislature fails to adequately fund school aid, attacks teachers' organizing rights, debates vouchers, we need voices at the local level to step up and understand that you can't have strong communities and strong neighborhoods without strong schools. Des Moines needs a voice for strong neighborhoods and strong schools on our city council.
And when the legislature attacks and demeans public employees, guts their collective bargaining rights, and then uses the excuse that it gives local elected officials more flexibility, we need local elected officials to step up. We need them to say that with our firefighters, our police, the folks who fix our potholes and maintain our parks, we're all a team and we provide government services better when we recognize and value everyone's contribution.
When the legislature looks to pre-empt local policies that raise wages and invest in people, we need local elected officials to step up and say they recognize that our community is stronger when people have the opportunity that comes from a decent wage. We need elected officials to fight against the pre-emption bill that will cut the wage of thousands of Des Moines minimum wage workers. We need elected officials that will stand up for local policies that provide apprenticeship programs and support local workers.
On all of these issues, Councilwoman Hensley has been conspicuously silent.
But--but I can think of one issue where she hasn't been silent. (laughter) On that issue she's just been plain wrong.
Iowa has serious water quality problems, and Des Moines and its residents are on the front lines of those water quality problems. Our drinking water is threatened. When we try to go to beaches over the summer, we notice that more and more of them are closed because of the pollution. Des Moines Water Works and the Water Works board has been fighting courageously for water quality on our behalf. And time and time again, Councilwoman Hensley has sided with special interests against Des Moines Water Works and the residents of Des Moines. She's part of the Partnership for Clean Water that's regularly attacking the Water Works. She led the charge--she led the charge to get the city of Des Moines to support the legislation to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works. She's demonstrated time and again that she is incapable of being our voice on water quality.
I'm running for city council because I will be dedicated to being our voice for our values, and our concerns, and our interests. But this race is about more than just being our voice. It's about the future of our city, its possibilities and the opportunities it can bring.
I grew up here in Des Moines. I'm a proud product of the Des Moines public schools. My wife and I have chosen to raise our two kids in this community. In fact, this community has provided opportunity for my family for generations, starting with my great-great-grandfather, who came here as a Jewish German immigrant, at a time when Jewish German immigrants didn't necessarily have opportunity everywhere. But in Des Moines, he did. He was able to open up a store and grow his business and make his life better, and his children's life better, and his children's children's lives better. That's what a great American city can do. It can provide opportunity for everyone who wants to be a part of that city, who wants to help build that city. That's what I want for my children and every child and every person and every family who makes their way here--whether you're a first generation or the sixth generation, regardless of what circumstances brought you here.
I want that Des Moines. I want a community that provides that opportunity. And the way you provide that opportunity is by building a better city. You build a better city by creating a strong downtown connected to diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. You build a better city by coordinating the city council and the school board and improving programming and planning. You build a better city by recognizing the importance of public health and public safety. That means tackling serious problems like water quality and providing resources to our first responders, police and fire. And you build a better city by investing in people and promoting policy to raise wages.
I want to build a better city, a city that provides that opportunity for every family, and I hope you will join me, because I know that together we can build a better city and a better future.
March 23 news release:
Josh Mandelbaum Announces Candidacy for Des Moines City Council Ward 3
Names Pederson and Campbell Campaign Co-Chairs
Des Moines - Josh Mandelbaum formally announced his candidacy for Des Moines City Council Ward 3 in the November 7, 2017 election. He also announced former Lt. Governor Sally Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell as campaign co-chairs.
Josh Mandelbaum’s career has spanned the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Josh served as a policy advisor in the Vilsack/Pederson administration from 2003-2006. He then went back to the University of Iowa College of Law. He practiced at the law firm of Lane and Waterman in the Quad Cities before returning to Des Moines to work for the Environmental Law & Policy Center.
“When I worked in the Vilsack-Pederson administration, I saw firsthand how government run well and government focused on the people it serves could make a significant difference in people’s lives.” Mandelbaum said. “I want Des Moines to provide opportunities and a better life for everyone who wants to be part of our community and who wants to help build our community.”
Campaign co-chair and former Lt. Governor Sally Pederson said “I have had a close working relationship with Josh in both the public and non-profit sector for the past 15 years. As a member of the Vilsack/Pederson administration, he was a passionate and knowledgeable resource respected by legislators across party lines for his commitment to good public policy. He will bring that same knowledge, passion, and commitment to the citizens of Ward 3, and that is why I want him to be my representative on the Des Moines City Council.”
As an environmental attorney at a public interest non-profit, Josh is working on critical problems facing our community from water quality to the clean energy economy. “Josh uses his skills as an attorney to make our community better,” said campaign co-chair and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell. “Josh isn’t afraid to fight special interests, and that is why I want Josh fighting for me as my representative on the Des Moines City Council.”
Supporters Kathy and Herb Eckhouse, owners of La Quercia, added, “As central Iowa business owners, we value our workforce; they and their families need to flourish for all of us to succeed. Josh Mandelbaum will act to invest in people, through policies that raise wages and the quality of life for all residents. He will make Des Moines a better place to live and work.”
“We need Council members who understand the seriousness of challenges we face from water quality to providing opportunity to everyone who lives in our community,” Mandelbaum said. “Des Moines residents need city council members who represent our interests, our concerns, and our values. I will dedicate my voice on the Council to achieving those goals.”
Josh Mandelbaum was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. He is the product of Des Moines public schools having attended Hanawalt Elementary School, Merrill Middle School, Roosevelt High School and Central Academy. Josh currently serves on the Polk County Early Childhood Iowa board, the advisory board of University of Iowa REACH (Realizing Education and Career Hopes) program, and the Greater Des Moines Jewish Federation. He attends Temple B’nai Jeshurun on Grand Avenue. He currently lives on the west side of Des Moines with his wife Katherine, his son Liam (3), daughter Ayla (1) and black lab Truman.
Biography provided by Josh Mandelbaum:
Des Moines Born and Raised
Josh Mandelbaum was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. He is the product of Des Moines public schools having attended Hanawalt Elementary School, Merrill Middle School, Roosevelt High School and Central Academy. Josh has left Des Moines and returned twice – first to attend Brown University and then to attend the University of Iowa College of Law. He currently lives on the west side of Des Moines with his wife Katherine, his son Liam (3), daughter Ayla (1) and black lab Truman (3).
Policy Advisor to Governor Vilsack and Lt. Governor Pederson
Josh served as a policy advisor to Governor Vilsack and Lt. Governor Pederson. During his service, Josh had a role in many of the Vilsack-Pederson administration accomplishments such as the establishment of the Iowa Veterans Cemetery, the creation of the Office of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and initiation of a Spanish language interpreter program. His efforts helped thousands of Iowans receive increased access to health care through the hawk-I and Medicaid programs, and improved mental health, family planning, and wellness care through legislative initiatives.
Environmental Attorney Working for Clean Energy and Clean Water
When he left the Vilsack-Pederson administration, Josh went to law school at the University of Iowa. After graduating from law school, Josh worked at a firm in the Quad Cities before returning to Des Moines to work for the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Josh is a leading voice for Iowa's clean energy economy working on policies and regulatory proceedings that promote wind, solar, and energy efficiency. Josh is a strong advocate for improving Iowa’s water quality. He has successfully fought in court to protect and enforce water quality standards, and he is engaged in collaborative efforts advocating for water quality funding and increased adoption of conservation practices.
Committed to the Community
Josh has always been committed to his community. As a member of the Polk County Early Childhood Iowa board, he works to provide quality early childhood education and child care to all of Polk County. He is a founding advisory board member of the University of Iowa REACH (Realizing Education and Career Hopes) program that provides students with cognitive and learning disabilities the post-secondary training they need to hold employment and live independently. He attends Temple B’nai Jeshurun on Grand Avenue. He currently serves on the Greater Des Moines Jewish Federation and has previously served a board member of the Iowa Jewish Life Center on Polk Boulevard.
Josh has been recognized as a community leader. He is a graduate of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. His leadership on clean energy issues was honored as a member of the Midwest Energy News 2016 40 under 40 class. His professional accomplishments and civic commitment to the community earned him recognition as part of the Des Moines Business Record’s 2017 40 under 40 class.
Video of the March 6 public hearing on House File 484, the bill to disband the Des Moines Water Works. Mandelbaum's three-minute testimony begins around the 21:45 mark.
Map of Des Moines Ward 3:
Coincidence or Payback?
Is Josh Mandelbaum related to the principals at Mandelbaum Properties who just had their project at 5th & Walnut taken away by the city counsel today? Shady af if that happened.
the property developers
Justin and John Mandelbaum are Josh Mandelbaum's first cousin and uncle, respectively.
I haven't followed that building story closely enough to know whether the Mandelbaum proposal was better than Blackbird's. I saw that city staff recommended Blackbird.
No evidence so far
While I think that is worth watching, Hensley actually has been - at least publicly -- leaning toward the Mandelbaum project and has been challenging whether Blackbird can really do two 30 story projects at the same time. It may be the only thing she is getting right these days; lets see if it holds now that Josh has announced.