Review of progressive local election victories around Iowa

Democrats around the country had a lot to celebrate last night, including a “tidal wave” in Virginia, total control of state government in New Jersey, a vote to expand Medicaid in Maine, and a special election that gave the party a majority in the Washington State Senate. Voting rights may be expanded soon in several states, Ari Berman wrote today at Mother Jones.

Many progressive Democrats scored victories in Iowa’s non-partisan local elections as well.

Mazahir Salih (pictured above) became the first Sudanese-American woman to win an election in our state, easily winning one of Iowa City’s two at-large city council seats. A leader in the Sudanese-American Association, the Black Voices Project, and the Center for Worker Justice, Salih campaigned on a progressive platform including “affordable housing, improving local transportation, and promoting quality jobs.” Incumbent Kingsley Botchway, also popular among Johnson County Democrats, was the other winner.

Josh Mandelbaum won the Des Moines City Council Ward 3 race with a dominating 56 percent of the vote in a three-way field. Michael Kiernan won about 34 percent, while Abshir Omar, a popular candidate among progressives, took about 9 percent. I thought the race would be closer, since Kiernan previously served a term on the council and featured pictures of his popular wife (WHO-TV’s Erin Kiernan) on his direct mail and billboards around town. Although Kiernan is a past state chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, prominent local Republicans including retiring incumbent Christine Hensley had endorsed him for this race. (See the e-mail enclosed at the end of this post.)

Mandelbaum worked hard to execute his plan, raising substantial funds and knocking some 7,500 doors in seven months. Many volunteers (including me) canvassed for Mandelbaum during the past few days as well. Though labor activists in Des Moines were disappointed by Skip Moore‘s loss to Connie Boesen in the at-large city council race, union support likely helped Mandelbaum’s GOTV in Ward 3.

Iowa’s environmental community will be thrilled to have another strong voice in a high-profile public office. As an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, Mandelbaum has been working on local and state-level water quality and renewable energy issues for years. Two of those cases went to the Iowa Supreme Court. Water quality was a recurring topic in Mandelbaum’s stump speech and the focal point of his television commercial. As Pat Rynard noted at Iowa Starting Line, Mandelbaum’s win “gives Democrats something they don’t have much of in this state: a young, inspiring, ambitious leader who has a platform in a key elected position.”

In West Des Moines, Renee Hardman will become the only woman and person of color on the city council after pulling off an upset over incumbent Rick Messerschmidt by 70 votes. Turnout was up substantially compared to 2015. Julie Stauch was an active volunteer for Hardman and reviewed all the West Des Moines candidates in this Bleeding Heartland post over the weekend. Claire Celsi, who ran a strong campaign for a West Des Moines-based Iowa House seat last year, also worked hard to support Hardman, knocking on lots of doors, helping her prepare for candidate forums, and filling out candidate questionnaires.

Rich Clewell, a champion for education and early childhood initiatives, won the 6th Ward alderman’s race in Davenport.

Kate Larson, a Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, easily won a city council seat in Dubuque’s Ward 3. According to Tracy Leone, the Dubuque results were a sweep for labor-backed candidates.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement activist Ross Grooters won a city council seat in Pleasant Hill after campaigning on his support for a livable wage, welcoming stance toward immigrants, clean water, and fewer “tax handouts to big business.”

Former State Senator Steve Sodders was unopposed in the mayoral race for State Center (Marshall County). Sodders served two terms in the Iowa Senate before losing his 2016 re-election bid. Earlier this year, he had considered running for Congress in the first district.

Former State Representative Tyler Olson was among the Cedar Rapids City Council winners. The mayoral election in Iowa’s second-largest city will go to a runoff between Monica Vernon and Brad Hart.

Jessica Kean was unopposed in a Maquoketa City Council race. She was the Democratic candidate last year in Iowa House district 58.

In Boone, three Democrats (Holly Stecker, Eli Stines, and David Byrd) defeated Republican city council incumbents by roughly 20-point margins. Incumbent Greg Piklapp, a Democrat, was easily re-elected to the council.

Bleeding Heartland guest author Lauren Whitehead was re-elected to the Solon City Council. She had won a special election there earlier this year. Her advice for candidates planning local campaigns is a must-read.

Last night brought decisive victories to reform-minded candidates in Muscatine, as Bleeding Heartland discussed here.

Final note: as I’d feared, backlash against new sidewalks dominated the election in my home town of Windsor Heights. I don’t know why sidewalks inspire such intense opposition in this small suburb of Des Moines, but it’s been that way for many years. Turnout here was probably the highest in the state yesterday at more than 41 percent. CORRECTION: In the comments below, John Deeth noted, “Sorry Windsor Heights but University Heights had 49.30% turnout – which is actually LOW for them. They’ve had a decade of high turnout and divisive elections. Also in Johnson County, Oxford saw 44.05%.”

In our mayoral race, a sidewalk opponent, Dave Burgess, defeated outgoing city council member Tony Timm, who had voted to install sidewalks on several streets this summer. Nine candidates vied for three Windsor Heights city council seats. The top two vote-getters were Mike Jones and Mike Loffredo, who ran on a slate with support from the anti-sidewalk crowd. The third seat went to Joseph Jones, a former staffer in Governor Tom Vilsack’s administration and voice for progressive change, including steps to make our city safer and healthier for pedestrians.

Any comments about the local elections are welcome in this thread. I will be happy to update with more news of progressive candidate victories anywhere in Iowa.

UPDATE: A reader informed me that 23-year-old Jared Beymer won the mayoral election in Denison (Crawford County).

Iowa Democratic Party State Central Committee member Jonathan Green defeated the incumbent mayor of Lone Tree (Johnson County) by eight votes.

Republican e-mail blast endorsing Connie Boesen and Michael Kiernan for Des Moines City Council:

From: Will Rogers
Date: Nov 5, 2017 8:39 PM
Subject: Des Moines City Council Election
As a lifelong resident of Des Moines, I care deeply about our community and as a hardworking tax payer I expect the very best from our local elected officials. City government is a key institution that affects our daily lives and the quality of life that we have in Des Moines.
On Tuesday, November 7, you have the opportunity to help elect our next city council and if you haven’t already voted or know who you plan to vote for, I want to share my thoughts on two candidates I am supporting this election.
The first is Connie Boesen. I have known Connie for years and think she has the best interests of our community at heart. She has worked tirelessly in our community and on our Des Moines Public School Board. And she did this quietly with no fanfare. We need to have someone like Connie serving as our At-Large Council Member.
The second is Mike Kiernan. Mike is running for Des Moines Ward 3 – which currently the seat occupied by Christine Hensley. After Christine announced she would not be seeking another term in office, Mike was asked by several members of our community to step forward and run for office. Not only does Mike have the experience to things done on City Council, he also can answer a tough question with an honest answer. He knows that the City of Des Moines needs to get back to the basics of providing public safety, fixing potholes, providing unparalleled service to taxpayers and progress for our community. I am joined in my endorsement of Mike by Des Moines Councilmember Christine Hensley, Des Moines Businessman Jim Cownie, and former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn.
Again, I strongly encourage you to vote for Connie Boesen and Mike Kiernan for Des Moines City Council. If you would like to discuss either candidate with me, please call me at 515-669-1648.
God Bless,
Will Rogers
This email is paid for by Will Rogers. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.

Top image: Mazahir Salih, right, celebrating her Iowa City council victory with her campaign manager, Shawn Harmsen. Photo by Luma Makawi, used with permission.

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  • Turnout

    Sorry Windsor Heights but University Heights had 49.30% turnout – which is actually LOW for them. They’ve had a decade of high turnout and divisive elections. Also in Johnson County, Oxford saw 44.05%.

  • More?

    Didn’t we also pick up a non-incumbent Democratic woman in the conservative enclaves of both Waukee and Johnston?

  • Boone

    I’ve heard and read that some members of the City of Boone establishment showed remarkable arrogance toward the residents who want to keep backyard chickens, which is a very reasonable request and is already allowed in many cities. Well, buk buk buk! Congratulations to the chicken advocates. I’ll definitely be skimming news stories about Boone City Council meetings in the months to come. I have a feeling that backyard chickens may be just the beginning.