Runoff local election results thread

Many Iowa communities held runoff local elections today. The highest-profile races are for two Des Moines City Council seats. Skip Moore and Leisha Barcus face off for the at-large seat vacated earlier this year by Michael Kiernan. On November 3 Barcus edged Moore by 32 percent to 30 percent, but this is anybody’s race. In recent days Mayor Frank Cownie endorsed Moore, who was already backed by many area labor unions. That should help him in a low-turnout environment. On the other hand, Barcus had the Des Moines Register’s endorsement and may have an advantage with west-side residents who voted for David Adelman on November 3.

Neither Barcus nor Moore lives in Des Moines’ first ward, where turnout is likely to be higher than in the city as a whole. In Ward 1, 20-year incumbent Tom Vlassis faces Drake University Law School student Halley Griess. I don’t envy the voters who faced this choice. Vlassis was knee-deep in the CIETC scandal and should have stepped down rather than run for a fifth term. Technically, city council elections are non-partisan, but it would have been nice to have a different Democrat on the ballot against Griess. I voted for two Republicans in Windsor Heights this year, but Griess seems like a real right-winger.

Turnout was relatively high (over 20 percent) for the Windsor Heights runoff, where four candidates compete for two at-large City Council seats. Only about 30 votes separated Betty Glover, Flo Hunter, Carole Tillotson and David Jenison on November 3. When Mr. desmoinesdem voted a little after 5 pm, he cast ballot number 271 in our precinct, which has about 1,200 registered voters. I expect this race to be decided by a handful of votes, so I’ve been making reminder calls the last few days to people who might not know about the candidates or remember the runoff date.

I’ll update this post later as results come in from the Des Moines area. Please post a comment about local election results in your corner of the state.

UPDATE: Preliminary results from the Polk County Auditor’s office: Moore defeated Barcus, 52 percent to 47 percent. Griess defeated Vlassis, 51 percent to 48.5 percent. If Griess becomes a rising Republican star, just remember that it could have been avoided if some people had talked Vlassis into retiring.

In West Des Moines Ward 1, Kevin Trevillyan defeated incumbent Robert Parks, 53 percent to 47 percent.

In Windsor Heights, incumbents Hunter and Tillotson were narrowly reelected. CORRECTION: Challengers Glover and Jenison won this election. I did not realize there was a precinct still to be counted in Windsor Heights when I wrote this last night. Glover and Jenison slightly increased their raw vote totals from November 3 to yesterday, which is remarkable. Typically turnout is significantly lower for a runoff.

SECOND UPDATE: The Cedar Rapids Gazette has results from two runoffs for City Council. Don Karr defeated Aaron Saylor, and Pat Shey defeated Jerry McGrane.

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Des Moines Register explains how Moore won:

Moore won every precinct in northeast side Ward 2, where he lives, and handily won Ward 4 on the southeast side. Barcus ran strongest in southwest Des Moines’ Ward 3, and she held off Moore in Ward 1, where she captured roughly 57.5 percent of the vote.

However, there was a significant drop-off in voters in Ward 3, which hurt Barcus.

In a low-turnout election, it’s critical to turn out your base supporters.

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More fallout from film tax-credit scandal

Governor Chet Culver took more steps on Monday to deal with the scandal surrounding Iowa’s tax credits for the movie industry:

Culver fired Iowa Film Office manager Tom Wheeler, who was in charge of coordinating tax-credit deals with moviemakers, who flocked to Iowa during the past year.

Vince Lintz, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, which oversaw the film office, turned in his resignation. […]

On Monday, Culver asked state Auditor David Vaudt, Iowa Department of Revenue director Mark Schuling and Attorney General Tom Miller to assist in reviewing the program.

Culver said he was “very troubled” by reports of abuses in the tax credit program, which reportedly included purchase of two luxury vehicles by unidentified movie executives, and lax oversight.

“I’ve made it very clear from the very beginning that we would like to continue the program,” Culver told The Des Moines Register. “But not until we have all of the controls in place, the oversight, the due diligence that is necessary to run any program involving taxpayer money.”

Surely we’ll be hearing a lot more about this mess, which already prompted the Department of Economic Development director’s resignation last Friday.

Naturally, Republican legislative leaders are blaming the “governor’s lack of oversight and failure to properly manage the film tax credit” for the problems. Several people I’ve spoken with share Bleeding Heartland user American007’s view that this scandal is going to become a major headache for Culver, like wrongdoing at the Central Iowa Employment Training Consortium was used to attack Governor Tom Vilsack and other Democrats a few years ago.

It’s not clear to me how Culver could have or should have micromanaged the film tax credit program. Upon learning of problems, he has acted promptly and appropriately. If the governor were resisting change to this program, protecting the officials who screwed up, or blocking an investigation, that would be a different story.

In addition, as you can see from this CIETC scandal timeline, the CIETC abuses became public knowledge during the spring of 2006. The scandal didn’t stop Iowa Democrats from making big gains that November. Mike Mauro was elected secretary of state that year, even though he shared a surname with one of the CIETC board members (I remember some fretting over that at the time).

Culver should brace himself for more bad news about the film tax credits when investigators have completed their reviews, but I don’t see this issue being salient with voters more than a year from now.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Local landmark will lose the Archie Brooks name

After “an emotional public hearing,” the Des Moines City Council voted 6-0 today to restore the original name of the Archie Brooks Community Center on the south side:

Brooks, a long-time councilman who was first elected in 1975, pleaded guilty of conspiracy and misappropriation of public money stemming from his role in a payroll scandal at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, where he once served as board chairman. He was sentenced in January to a year and a day in prison and was ordered to repay $400,000 of the nearly $2 million lost in the scandal.

Some argue Brooks’ actions not only disgraced himself, but shamed the city, while others say decades of public service outweigh any of his admitted misdeeds.

The nice facility will once again be known as the Pioneer-Columbus Community Center.

City Council member Tom Vlassis abstained from today’s vote. He was a CIETC board member when crimes occurred at the agency and has admitted that he was a “rubber stamp” for what CIETC executives wanted.

Most Des Moines residents who contacted City Council members about the matter supported taking Brooks’ name off the community center. However, listening to those who stand by Brooks even now provides a good reminder of how well patronage can work for local political bosses.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. Bonus points if you can explain why the CIETC scandal, involving about $2 million, has generated more intense public outrage than the billions of taxpayer dollars squandered in wasteful, no-bid federal contracts every year.

I suspect this is mainly related to “agenda-setting” by local media that put CIETC on the front page for months. Perhaps some armchair psychologist in the Bleeding Heartland community knows of other reasons why certain crimes involving public money make people angrier than others.

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Rename the Archie Brooks Community Center

Former Des Moines City Council member Archie Brooks was sentenced to one year plus one day in prison, plus a $400,000 fine and two years of probation, for his role in misusing about $2 million funds at the Central Iowa Employment Training Consortium (CIETC). Brooks was the board chairman of CIETC at the time.

Depending on how you look at it, Brooks’ sentence seems long or short. It’s long when you consider that billions of taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq can’t be accounted for, yet there is not even a serious investigation (let alone prosecution) of those who may be responsible.

On the other hand, Brooks is getting off lightly compared to Ramona Cunningham, who did not cooperate with prosecutors and got 7 years in prison for her role in the CIETC crimes. Also, the former CIETC treasurer was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of house arrest.

Marc Hansen’s latest Des Moines Register column notes that Des Moines City Council member Brian Meyer wants the council to discuss renaming the Archie Brooks Community Center. The south-side facility used to be called the Pioneer-Columbus Community Center.

Meyer says he’s getting a lot of feedback from south-siders, most of whom want to change the name. I agree that an elected official who abused his power to enrich a few people should not have a neighborhood landmark named after him.

Hansen nosed around the community center and found that most of the people agreed with changing the name, but the most interesting quotes in his column are from the minority who want to leave the name alone.

If you want to understand why patronage works and why political machines have been so powerful in so many cities, read this:

“I’m not going against Archie Brooks,” she said. “I like Archie. I don’t like what he did. I think he should be punished, but I don’t think he should go to prison.”

The body of his good deeds, in other words, outweighs the CIETC bad. Pazzi recalled the floods of 1993 and how the city removed water pumps from some south-side basements and sent them – where else? – west.

Somebody told Brooks, who made a few phone calls and had the pumps back where they belonged, proving that not every call he made during the flood was a bad one.

“You know what?” Pazzi said. “The south side must have wanted him back. He knocked the fireman out of the City Council.”

The fireman is Gene Phillips, who defeated Brooks in 1995. Phillips left the City Council and won a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, setting up Brooks’ return to the council.[…]

Larry Marlin […] said Brooks kept his VFW post from closing.

“If it wasn’t for his connections to the City Council,” Marlin said, “the post wouldn’t be there. He knew we were eligible for a $10,000 grant. There were a lot of times he’d tell me where to go and it was never go to hell. Sure, he made some mistakes, but he trusted the wrong people. I definitely don’t think he should get jail time.”

That’s an old-school political boss. Good for Brooks for getting those pumps back to the flooded south-side basements and keeping the VFW post open.

But we don’t need a building named after a convicted criminal.

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Cunningham gets seven years for CIETC-related crimes (updated)

Ramona Cunningham was sentenced to seven years in prison for her part in misappropriating $1.5 million in federal funds while she headed the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC). Others involved in the fraud at CIETC will be sentenced later this month or next year, but presumably Cunningham will do the most time in prison, having been the central figure in the scandal.

The prison sentence seems fair; misusing funds meant for job training programs is a serious crime. I’m sure many people will say Cunningham should be punished more harshly, though. The hatred of her is out of proportion to the crimes at CIETC.

Speaking of crime and punishment, Glenn Greenwald wrote a good post contrasting the media’s exhaustive coverage of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s alleged crimes with the near-total silence about the Senate Armed Services Committee’s recent finding:

The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report issued on Thursday — which documents that “former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” and “that Rumsfeld’s actions were ‘a direct cause of detainee abuse’ at Guantanamo and ‘influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques … in Afghanistan and Iraq’” — raises an obvious and glaring question:  how can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution?  

Great question.

UPDATE: CIETC’s former chief accountant Karen Tesdell got sentenced to two years on Tuesday for looking the other way as her colleagues misappropriated money.

Marc Hansen’s latest column reviews the arguments Cunningham’s attorney Bill Kutmus used during the sentencing hearing. He said his client wasn’t the ringleader and should not be punished more harshly than John Bargman (CIETC’s former chief operating officer, who will be sentenced next year). He also said Cunningham was a victim of sexism, and that U.S. prosecutors had treated her unfairly.

I agree that misogyny was driving a lot of the intense hatred of Cunningham. But I have some advice for her: next time you decide to commit a bunch of federal crimes, strike a plea bargain like Bargman did if you don’t want to do serious prison time.

Look at Mitchell Wade. He bribed a member of Congress with more than $1.8 million and just got sentenced to only 30 months in prison, because he cooperated with prosecutors.  

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Cunningham takes plea deal to avoid CIETC trial

The details haven’t been released to the public, but according to the Des Moines Register on Tuesday,

Former job-training executive Ramona Cunningham has struck a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on charges that she conspired with others to misuse $1.5 million in taxpayer money.

The 53-year-old former director of the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium was scheduled for trial July 8 on 30 charges of fraud and conspiracy.

No doubt misogynistic heads are exploding all over central Iowa.  

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The hate that dare not speak its name

Ramona Cunningham, the former head of the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC), is standing trial now for her alleged involvement in misspending about $1.5 million at that agency.

Writing in the Des Moines Register on Saturday, Marc Hansen is disturbed by the over-the-top hatred for Cunningham, who after all “did not murder, kidnap, rape or torture anyone.” He quotes an anonymous poster on the Register’s website, who fantasized about selling lottery tickets to see who gets to flip the switch to shock Cunningham, and who gets to turn up the voltage.

Ramona rancor goes beyond the Internet, though.

It seeps into radio talk and water cooler conversation. Like mucky river water, it has risen to an unhealthy level.

Where does it come from? Some of it comes from a pervasive distrust of government and the belief that sneaky public servants can get away with anything.

CEOs who work for the big for-profit companies seem to get more love. I’m not even sure Jeffrey Skilling, the evil Enron genius, faced the same level of public ridicule.

No, he didn’t. Nor do the executives of defense contractors who misspend billions in public money attract the same kind of vitriol.

I’ve got the answer for you, Mr. Hansen. Misogyny is driving the Cunningham hate train.

People aren’t posting their violent fantasies about extracting revenge on the men who had a hand in the wrongdoing at CIETC. If the person standing trial were named Robert Cunningham, this would be just another boring story about public servants embezzling funds that should have gone toward serving the public.

Her alleged sexual affairs with men involved in the CIETC scandal are nothing to be proud of, but no one is talking about selling tickets to watch those men get tortured.

Similarly, politics may be a contact sport, but if this year’s hard-fought Democratic nominating contest had involved two men, I do not think the commentary would have degenerated to the level it did. (More on that in this great post by Natasha Chart.)

Many women who voted for Barack Obama have nonetheless been disturbed by the sometimes violent hatred certain Obama supporters have expressed toward Hillary Clinton.

My limited personal experience on the internet also suggests that a small but vocal group of men quickly ratchet up the hate level when a woman is involved.

Last year I used to comment sometimes at the Cyclone Conservatives blog (as did a few other liberals). This was tame stuff. I would point out, for instance, that calling the Democratic health care proposals “socialized medicine” revealed a lack of understanding about the difference between “socialized medicine” (such as the Veterans Administration), single-payer health care (where the government pays but does not employ doctors and run hospitals), and imposing stronger regulations on private health insurers (which is what most of the Democrats proposed).

One or more anonymous posters at Cyclone Conservatives started attacking me in comment threads as a “skanky ho” and so on, and even posted creepy threats about following my children. It was so out of line that Don McDowell, the publisher of Cyclone Conservatives, shut down comments for a few days and issued a stern warning that threatening comments would not be tolerated. I did not observe that kind of response to the male Democrats who sometimes waded into the comment threads at that blog.

Hansen observed,

A man in eastern Iowa kills his wife, his children and himself and people say nice things about him. That’s fine. I’m sure the man had many good qualities.

During the past year or so, though, I can’t remember anyone saying anything nice about Cunningham, who can’t possibly be the worst person in the world.

No, she’s not the worst person in the world. She’s just the kind of person that certain sick minds love having an excuse to hate.

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Lack of investigative journalism a scandal too

Last month, while writing about Iowa getting an “F” grade for its open-records law, I commented:

The Register’s editorial board writes a lot about open-records law, and I give them credit for that. Unfortunately, under Gannett’s ownership, the Register hasn’t devoted nearly enough resources to solid investigative reporting.

I wish the editors were assigning more reporters to dig into the information that’s already publicly available.

Former Register editorial page editor Gil Cranberg develops that thought in an op-ed for the independent weekly Cityview, which asks why journalists did not uncover wrongdoing at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC):

The “CIETC scandal” was truly scandalous – as we’re reminded by the trials that kicked off last week – but it’s a mistake to blame it on a lack of “transparency” or to make it a poster child for Senate File 2378. The overpayments to CIETC executives were hiding in plain sight. The state auditor found them, and made a fuss, without having to issue subpoenas. For all of the ink spilled about CIETC I’m not aware of any that was used to explain how and why the press missed the huge overpayments until many months later when the auditor cried foul.

Sure, it helps to have strong laws to let the sunshine in. But inexperienced citizens can only do so much to uncover wrongdoing. If sunshine laws are to be effective, they have to be implemented by a press with the staff and space to make people sit up and take notice.

Unfortunately, the press is deep into retrenchment mode. Notice how page widths have narrowed? That means less space for news coverage. It’s the rare paper that trumpets how many fewer reporters, copy editors and editors it has, but loss of staff is unmistakable.

In the same issue of Cityview, the author of the “Civic Skinny” column delights in noting that the Des Moines Register just got shut out of the Pulitzers again,

as it has been every year since 1991. What’s more, alack, no Gannett newspaper won a Pulitzer – or was even a finalist this year.

If you want to win a Pulitzer, it helps to put some resources into investigative reporting.

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