Michael Kiernan running for open Des Moines city council seat

Former Des Moines City Council member Michael Kiernan announced yesterday that he will run for the open seat in Ward 3 this year, focusing on an “agenda of improving public safety, fixing potholes and continuing progress.” He held the at-large city council seat from 2004 to 2010 and served as Iowa Democratic Party state chair from January 2009 to June 2010. You can find his campaign on Facebook and on Twitter @mjkiernan.

Josh Mandelbaum has been campaigning in Ward 3 for the last two months. His strong challenge drove 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley to retire rather than seek re-election. Now that the odds of a Democrat winning this seat have increased, Kiernan has decided to give it a shot. In a thinly-veiled swipe at Mandelbaum, Kiernan posted on Facebook yesterday, “I’ve been hearing a lot about crime in our city lately. I keep expecting to hear people who say they want to serve our community talk about this issue. Instead, all I’m hearing about is political endorsements and campaign war chests.” He echoed the talking point in his news release and on Twitter: “Lot of talk about politics, political endorsements and political cash…no talk of public safety. That’s why I am running.”

If Kiernan had attended Mandelbaum’s first event as a candidate, he would have heard his opponent talk about many substantive issues including “the importance of public health and public safety” and “providing resources to our first responders, police and fire.” Granted, Mandelbaum’s campaign did announce last month that he had raised more than $110,000 in three weeks, “recruited over 150 volunteers to help door-knock and hold house parties, and will soon have an elected official and labor leader endorsement list.” Taking on an entrenched incumbent requires a lot of groundwork, including early fundraising and lining up prominent supporters. But contrary to the impression Kiernan is trying to create, endorsements and cash have not been the focus of Mandelbaum’s message to Des Moines residents. You can read or listen to his first speech as a candidate here.

I enclose below a map of the ward, covering west-side and south-side neighborhoods, as well as Kiernan’s news release, more background on his life and career, and the list of elected officials backing Mandelbaum. (His campaign hasn’t rolled out the labor endorsements yet.)

Mandelbaum has not publicly commented on Kiernan entering the race. I anticipate his case to Democratic voters will be similar to a statement his campaign released after Hensley disclosed her retirement plans: “When this race looked impossible to win, Josh stepped up to run because the values we share as a community were being threatened everyday.” I’ve closely followed Mandelbaum’s work over the years and will encourage voters in the ward to support him, because of his skills and commitment to progressive policies.

Local elections are non-partisan, but I expect some Republican backed by corporate interests to join the field in Ward 3 before long. I welcome tips on other possible candidates.

UPDATE: Added below new comments from Kiernan, who answered some questions by phone on May 18.

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Local Iowa election discussion thread

Iowans will elect county supervisors and vote on many local ballot initiatives across the state tomorrow, so I thought I’d put up a thread for Bleeding Heartland readers to discus any local races of interest. Iowa City’s vote on the 21-only bar ordinance will be the most closely-watched city election result. If the “yes” side prevails, the city’s ordinance barring 19- and 20-year-olds from bars after 10 pm will be thrown out. If “no” wins, the ordinance will stand. Strong early voting among University of Iowa students suggests that the ordinance will be tossed out. If I lived in Iowa City, I’d vote no. To my mind, this is a public safety issue, and the drop in downtown crime since the ordinance went into effect is compelling. I see no reason to make Iowa City a drinking destination for underage people in a large area of eastern Iowa. People who view this as a rights issue should be agitating to lower the drinking age.

In Polk County, the most contested local race is in the third supervisor’s district, where former Republican Congressional candidate Dave Funk is challenging two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith (more background here). Funk is running on a small-government, lower-taxes agenda. He also claims Polk County isn’t spending enough on public safety. I have heard that Funk is advertising on the radio, but I haven’t caught any of those commercials, so I don’t know the script. Hockensmith has been up on Des Moines television stations with a 30-second ad for the last week or two. A transcript of the Hockensmith commercial is after the jump.

Funk has some ground to make up tomorrow. According to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, as of November 1 his office had received 4,588 absentee ballots from registered Democrats in the third supervisor’s district, 2,595 from Republicans, 1,157 from no-party voters and 5 from voters with some other registration. In 2006, Hockensmith defeated Republican Wes Enos by 16,936 votes to 11,121.

Any comments on local Iowa elections are welcome in this thread.

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Second look at Dave Funk's county supervisor campaign

Dave Funk officially announced his candidacy for Polk County supervisor this week and rolled out a new campaign website, PolkNeedsFunk.com. Not quite the same ring as “Congress Needs Funk,” but still a good slogan. He’s a strong recruit, having carried several precincts in the third supervisor’s district in last month’s GOP primary to represent Iowa’s third Congressional district. (Click here for maps of the district and the Congressional primary results in Polk County.)

Funk promised supporters that this is a “winnable” race, which could give Republicans control of Polk County government for the first time in 62 years. As an energetic campaigner with a built-in supply of volunteers from the local tea party movement, Funk will test two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith. He starts the campaign with much higher name recognition than Wes Enos, whom Hockensmith defeated in 2006 by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

However, Funk faces an uphill battle. Even after recent Republican gains in voter registration statewide, Democrats still have a large registration advantage in Polk County’s third supervisor’s district. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald provided the latest figures for active registered voters in the area Hockensmith represents: 22,301 Democrats, 15,753 Republicans, 15,569 no-party voters, and 52 others. Polk County Democrats have a strong GOTV operation, and organized labor will work hard for Hockensmith for reasons I described here.

Funk’s tea party rhetoric may not resonate in this campaign as well as it did with Republican primary voters last month. The issues page of Polk Needs Funk talks about limiting spending so that county government can “live within its means,” but people want their supervisors to deliver public services like the ones Hockensmith will talk about during the campaign.

Anyway, Polk County’s fiscal position is strong. Many residents questioned the money spent to expand the Iowa Events Center earlier this decade, but that facility just turned its largest-ever profit despite the tough economy. You can download recent county budgets and reports from bond rating agencies here. The last time Polk County issued general obligation bonds in 2007, all three major ratings agencies gave the county strong credit ratings. Fitch said its AA+ rating “reflects the county’s broad and diverse economic base, sound financial operations, and low direct debt burden.” Moody’s said Polk’s “high quality Aa1 rating reflects the county’s healthy and economically viable tax base realizing strong growth trends; stable financial operations supported by satisfactory reserve levels; and a manageable debt burden with future debt planned.” Standard & Poor’s raised Polk’s rating from AA+ to AAA, citing factors such as “low debt burden” and “stable financial position supported by a policy to pass balanced budgets.”

Funk will struggle to convince voters that “Polk County is among the most hostile business environments in Iowa.” Talk about “getting government out of the way and fostering a fair, business-friendly environment” appeals to Funk’s base but has little basis in reality. The business magazine Forbes just named the Des Moines metro area one of the top ten “recovery capitals” in the U.S., based on Moody’s Economy.com analysis of economic prospects for the period 2010-14. The Brookings Institute ranked the Des Moines area near the top in its June 2010 report on recession and economic recovery in the country’s 100 largest metro areas. In April, Des Moines topped the Forbes list of “best places for business and careers.” Many factors contribute to the Des Moines area’s relative economic health, and most of them have little to do with county governance. But if Polk County supervisors really were creating the “hostile” business environment of Funk’s imagination, Des Moines shouldn’t be doing so well compared to other U.S. cities.

Share any thoughts about county government or the Funk/Hockensmith race in this thread.

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Big fundraising deadline and other events coming up this week

The next reporting period for Iowa candidates ends on Wednesday night, so now’s a good time to contribute to Democratic campaigns if you are able and willing. The easiest way to donate is through ActBlue. Iowa’s federal and statewide candidates are here, Iowa House candidates are here, and Iowa Senate candidates are here. Donations made before the end of July 14 will count for the current reporting period.

Event details for political and environmental gatherings this week are after the jump.

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First look at Dave Funk as a Polk County supervisor candidate

I heard the rumor, Civic Skinny heard the rumor, and now The Iowa Republican blog reports that Dave Funk will soon be the Republican nominee for supervisor in Polk County’s third district.

The two Republican Polk County supervisors aren’t up for re-election this year, and the GOP isn’t fielding candidates against Democratic supervisors John Mauro and Angela Connolly. As a result, the third district race between Funk and two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith will determine control of the five-member board of supervisors. Democrats have had a majority on that body for decades.

Without question, Funk is the best candidate Republicans could have recruited for this race. Two pictures tell that story after the jump.

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Events coming up this weekend and next week

Iowa county fair season is in full swing, and the Association of Iowa Fairs posts the schedule here. You may even run into some local candidates and elected officials.

The Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter has nature hikes and other group outings scheduled around the state this summer. Click here to view the calendars for your area.

The Johnson County-based group Backyard Abundance provides advice and educational events for people who want to grow food in urban environments or want to transform their yards into a low-maintenance, eco-friendly landscape.  I’m a big fan of letting native Iowa plants take over your yard.

Democrats are out canvassing most weekends from here through the November election. Iowa Democratic candidates, please send me notices of your upcoming public events, fundraisers or volunteer opportunities if you would like me to include them on these calendars.

Details for some political and environmental events are after the jump. Please post a comment or e-mail me at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you have something to add.

Seeing the announcement about Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith’s picnic next weekend reminded me of the latest political rumor going around Des Moines: former third district Congressional candidate Dave Funk is expected to challenge Hockensmith in the next supervisor’s race. I’ve seen no public confirmation of the rumor, though.

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