In news that shocked the Des Moines political world, longtime City Councilwoman Christine Hensley announced she would not seek reelection in 2017. The Republican representing a deeply-Democratic seat was already facing what likely would have been her toughest race yet in her 24-year career on the council.
Environmental attorney Josh Mandelbaum kicked off his candidacy last month and had already put together an impressive campaign. He had planned to roll out new fundraising numbers and endorsements tomorrow to demonstrate continuing momentum.
[Update] Mandelbaum’s campaign informs Starting Line that Mandelbaum has raised over $110,000 in the three weeks he’s been a candidate. They’ve recruited over 150 volunteers to help door-knock and hold house parties, and will soon have an elected official and labor leader endorsement list.
“This was a win for progressives today,” Mandelbaum’s campaign said. “People respect and like Josh because of the years of service he’s given to this community. When this race looked impossible to win, Josh stepped up to run because the values we share as a community were being threatened everyday … Republicans are very good at bench-building, and if a Farm Bureau board can spend $800,000 attacking Bill Stowe, they can do the same to Josh. It would be silly to think they won’t pour money into another candidate. Just because this fight looks better doesn’t mean it’s over by any means.”
Democrats have long hoped to defeat Hensley, who has used her position on the city council to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for statewide Republicans. She’s also built up a very conservative voting record that favored big business over workers, despite representing a rather liberal area of Des Moines.
With growing signs that 2017 and 2018 could be good years for Democrats, given recent election results in conservative congressional districts in Kansas and Georgia, the odds weren’t in Hensley’s favor.
But what likely would have made her reelection nearly insurmountable was her rather foolish vote to support Republican legislators’ efforts to dismantle Des Moines Water Works. The council backed the proposal pushed by rural Republicans – after hiring lobbyists who also represented drainage district interests – in the idea that it would stave off a worse plan. Instead, the current Water Works legislation proved too extreme even for many Republican legislators. Hensley had essentially sold out the city for a plan that never came about. It was a terribly tone-deaf move both on policy and politics.
It’s unclear if any other candidates will now try to enter the race. Des Moines City Council races are technically nonpartisan, though it’s usually clear who the Democrat and Republican are. Mandelbaum has already built up a large fundraising advantage and has significant support from local activists.
Regardless of whether any other contenders get in, Democrats have already scored a huge victory for the 2017 local elections.
by Pat Rynard