Rest in peace, Mary Maloney

Democrats all over Iowa were saddened by the news that Polk County Treasurer Mary Maloney died unexpectedly on January 29. Many who offered their condolences on social media described Maloney as a true public servant. Her work since 1989 to modernize the treasurer’s office and keep it running smoothly was highly regarded. She was often the highest vote-getter in Iowa’s largest county when she was on the ballot, even outperforming other Polk County officials who ran for re-election unopposed.

Many personal friends and colleagues remarked on how kind and caring Maloney was. I’ve enclosed some remembrances below. Although I didn’t know Maloney well, her kindness came through in all of my interactions with her over the years.

The Bleeding Heartland community sends healing thoughts to all of Mary Maloney’s loved ones, especially her husband and four children.

Maloney was a Joe Biden “super fan,” in the words of one friend. State Senator Janet Petersen was among those who commented that she was so glad her friend lived to see Biden inaugurated. Maloney’s last Facebook post (from January 20) noted simply, “Amanda Gorman is a star ⭐️??.”

The previous day, she had posted this incredible signed picture dating from Biden’s first presidential bid, along with the comment, “I first got to know Joe Biden and his family in 1987. On this eve of his Inauguration I pray for his safety. I can tell you he is the right person for the time. Hail to the chief.??”

Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly commented on Facebook,

I am just heartbroken that Polk County lost such a true public servant but I lost a friend that I shared so many political, neighborhood events,and not to mention I would see her in the building where we worked for over 20 years. Huge loss to so many! ??. Thinking of her family and all her staff as they mourn of Mary’s passing.

Teree Caldwell-Johnson, who served as Polk County Manager from 1996 to 2003, commented on Facebook,

Worked side by side with her for 8 years. Epitome of what public service and being a public servant is all about. Polk County and all its residents are better because a powerhouse named Mary Maloney chose to serve! RIP my friend!

Former state legislator Phil Wise commented on Facebook,

I am heartbroken by this news of my long-time friend and political ally. Iowa would be a better place if all elected officials displayed Mary’s commitment to integrity, transparency, and respect for the public that she served.

State Auditor Rob Sand tweeted, “This is awful. Mary was a joy to be around, was in politics for the right reasons, and really cared. A Decorah native to boot. RIP. Our thoughts go out to her loved ones.”

Jon Neiderbach, the 2014 Democratic candidate for state auditor, commented on Facebook,

Mary offered personal encouragement more times than I can count. I’m not sure she always agreed with me but she often said “if you have something to say go out and say it”. So many good conversations.

Jeani Murray, a veteran of many Iowa Democratic campaigns, posted on Facebook,

I am so shocked and saddened to see this news. Mary Maloney was a humble, fierce and stalwart public servant. For many years was such a strong supporter of so many campaigns I worked on and when I was ED [executive director] of the party, as an executive board member she helped in innumerable ways.

Former Iowa Democratic Party state chair Troy Price tweeted, “It is impossible to imagine Iowa Democratic politics without Mary Maloney. She was funny, sharp, witty, and I could always count on her for sound advice and insight on what was happening on the ground.”

One of Price’s predecessors, Sue Dvorsky, told Bleeding Heartland,

When I came to Des Moines as the accidental chair, I was the first non-Polk County IDP leader since Dave Nagle. I was meeting literally hundreds of people for the first time, each them important in the Party, leaders in their neighborhoods and organizations.

There were so many times that Mary was the warm, welcoming “I gotcha, sister” face in big rooms full of strangers who were also allies and colleagues. And countless times she either greeted them first, by name, or murmured their name to me as they approached. I never forgot her kindness. And I always appreciated her company. The impact of her loss will be widely felt.

State Senator Claire Celsi told Bleeding Heartland,

She was a staunch supporter of female candidates. All you would have to do is invite her to an event, and she would show up. Mary knew that her physical presence at events for other Democrats and for party activities was extremely important. She was friendly, approachable and engaging. I will really miss her. Her replacement will have large shoes to fill.

State Representative Jennifer Konfrst told Bleeding Heartland,

Mary was one of my earliest supporters. She gave me solid, practical advice about how to serve – not how to be a candidate, but how to do the important work. Stay connected to the community, remember who you work for, and realize how lucky you are to do this work. She even came to walk in a July 4 parade with me once.

The best advice she gave me was to be myself – harder than it looks in our business. She felt strongly that authenticity was important. Her encouragement embodied her approach to service. She was also delighted that one of my children attended Notre Dame like one of her children did – we shared stories and every time she saw me she reminded me that having kids in college was something to celebrate as we watched them start their adult lives. She was someone to look up to personally and professionally and I’m heartbroken I won’t get to see her at the next gathering or parade.

Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski posted on Facebook,

The Polk County family is absolutely heartbroken at the passing of Treasurer Mary Maloney today.

People will remember how long she served. They’ll talk about how she spearheaded an online payment system that quickly became the model for county governments around Iowa. They’ll note that she was one of the few people who passionately supported Joe Biden all of the three times he ran for the White House.

What I’ll remember is her belief that public service was the highest calling for an individual. Part of it was an old school, Bobby Kennedy kind of Catholic worldview. The other part of it was a love of working for people and a joy in taking on difficult, sometimes impossible, odds. She constantly gave feedback, constantly encouraged, constantly pushed along all of those around her.

She was incredibly generous to me personally. She endorsed me when I was in my 20’s running for city council. She urged me to run for county chair. Every time there was a success, she called. Every time – and I mean every time – I was in a testy meeting or took some heat for something, she called me like she was my mom and told me to take it in stride. I know she did that for countless others, too.

I’m so glad she got to see Joe get elected. I’m so glad she got to celebrate him being inaugurated. His victory was partly her victory, too.

The world would be a better place if we could be a fraction of who she thought we could be. We all will be judged by a higher yardstick because of her.

Vanessa Phelan, who chairs one of the many active neighborhood Democratic groups in Polk County, told Bleeding Heartland,

I got to know Mary Maloney through my involvement in Northwest Des Moines Democrats. She not only lived in my neighborhood, she also lived in my precinct. Mary was a fixture at our events. She’d hang out at our Beaverdale Fall Festival booth and tell us captivating stories about all the things she’d encountered in her political career. She’d unexpectedly pop in to our drive-up voter registration station decked out in her Biden merch just to see how things were going. Mary was always very generous with her time; she’d show up to pick up yard signs and we would be laughing and commiserating together thirty minutes later. I will miss those conversations so much.

Atypical of many elected officials, Mary rarely wanted time to talk at events; even when she was on the ballot she would quickly mention her race and move on to promoting other candidates. “I’m running unopposed,” she’d shrug, failing to mention that she was running unopposed because she was so good at her job that she scared off any potential opponents.

Since I learned of her death, one memory I keep coming back to is Mary at our 2020 presidential caucus. Mary was the Biden captain for our precinct and I was the caucus co-chair, so I gave her a call to check in late January. We discussed logistical details and Mary once again declined my offer to make a speech. At the start of the caucus, I asked how everyone who caucusing for the first time to stand and be recognized. Then those who had caucused twice to stand and others to take a seat, then those who caucused three times, etc. I worked my way up until there were only a few people who were still standing. At the end, Mary was the only person left standing; she had caucused more than any of the other 500 people in an auditorium filled with many longtime activists. I called her name into the microphone like a wrestling announcer, “Polk County Treasurer MARY MALONEY!” The caucus gave a huge cheer, Mary gave a little wave and sat down. She gave me a look that clearly said, “Let’s move along.” So, as usual, I took Mary’s advice and got on with the business of the caucus.

I know those of us in Polk County will miss Mary in her professional role as an incredibly hard-working and effective county treasurer. Right now, I’m just thinking about how much I will miss my friend.

Linda Santi, who is active with the Siouxland Progressive Women group, told Bleeding Heartland that when she lived in New Orleans during the 2000s, many of her Iowa Democratic contacts visited.

Some would call/email in advance; some would just show up.

Unsurprisingly given her meticulous nature, Mary contacted well in advance. We had an incredibly splendid time and it cemented our friendship even deeper than it had been through working in Iowa Democratic politics in the 90s.

Ever since, Mary was always so very gracious and – again – this is simply a reflection of her nature. We drove around; she discovered New Orleans perhaps to a degree that would have otherwise not been the case through her conference activities; she stayed an extra day or so and I was lucky enough to get to know what an incredibly kind, lovely woman she was.

She learned about New Orleans and I learned about Mary. I got the better end of the deal.

Associated Press correspondent Ryan Foley posted on Twitter, “Mary was a reporter’s dream: responsive, insightful, helpful, even gossipy at times. A true civil servant.”

UPDATE: Sharon Gradischnig had this to add.

Remember her well from our early Democratic activist days. She called me when she was considering running the first time to ask if I was considering running for the office, because if I was… she wouldn’t. We both made the best possible choices as she stepped into a lifelong commitment to public and I continued on my rolling stone life. She was a sincere and fair minded public servant who will be much missed as a thoughtful person [and] a dedicated public servant.

Login or Join to comment and post.