Progressives Pick Up Important Local Seats In Iowa’s Municipal Races

Iowans went to the polls yesterday in municipal races for city council and mayoral seats around the state, the second big election date since the 2016 election. Enthusiasm for local campaigns have been up in Democratic circles since Donald Trump’s elections, and many races that often only see one or two candidates were packed with contenders.

Democrats and progressive activists saw a number of key victories in city council races across Iowa, building upon the good night for the party with the Virginia sweep. Iowa’s municipal elections are technically nonpartisan, but you typically know who is from which party. Here’s a look at some of the important races Starting Line was watching. If you have others you think are notable, leave them in the comments below.

Polk County

The most expensive election of the day came in Des Moines City Council Ward 3, where Josh Mandelbaum bested Mike Kiernan by a large margin. Read more on that race in our earlier post.

Elsewhere in the city, another high-profile race featured incumbent Skip Moore facing off against school board member and well-known businesswoman Connie Boesen for the Des Moines City Council at-large seat. Moore raised $33,272 for his reelection effort; Boesen received $43,683. Moore had fended off tough challenges before, but the labor-backed Democrat lost to fellow Democrat Boesen 54% to 45%. That makes two turnovers on a council that doesn’t see much change.

Out in West Des Moines, Democrats picked up an at-large seat when businesswoman Renee Hardman ousted Republican incumbent Rick Messerschmidt in a close 51% to 49% win. Hardman becomes the only woman and person of color on the council. West Des Moines used to have a 4-1 Republican majority on the council; it’s now shaved down to 3-2 with further chances for gains in 2019. Democrat Nadir Mehta came up short against incumbent Russ Trimble, who works on the Senate Republicans staff, in the heavily-Republican Ward 3 seat, losing 68% to 32%.

Progressive activists had a nice win in Pleasant Hill, where CCI member Ross Grooters got a narrow victory to come in first of three for two seats on that council. CCI canvassed extensively for him during his campaign.

The nine-candidate Windsor Heights train-wreck ended with two anti-sidewalk candidates winning election. Notably, Joseph Jones, a former staffer for Tom Vilsack and executive director of the Harkin Institute, appeared to nab the third council spot. Anti-sidewalk candidate for mayor Dave Burgess defeated Tony Timm 53% to 44%.

Linn County

The Cedar Rapids mayoral race is headed to a run-off, setting up an important contest for Democrats and progressives in December. Monica Vernon led the eight-person field on Tuesday night with 31% of the vote. Attorney Brad Hart narrowly squeaked into the run-off with 20.45%, receiving just a few dozen more votes than Scott Olson, who got 19.89%. Hart had raised the most money in the crowded field.

Former legislator Tyler Olson returned to elected office, winning 56% of the vote in a three-way race for the at-large Cedar Rapids City Council seat. Democrat Dale Todd nabbed the city’s District 3 seat, taking 71% of votes in another three-way contest.

Rene Gadelha, the Republican who ran a spirited race against State Senator Liz Mathis in 2016, won election to the Marion City Council.

Johnson County

A pair of candidates backed by the Iowa City progressive community – incumbent Kingsley Botchway and Mazahir Salih – won the two at-large council seats. Salih may be the first female Sudanese immigrant to win election to public office in the country – she certainly is the first to do so in Iowa. Ryan Hall, a student who had the backing of many progressive groups, fell short in his run against incumbent council member Susan Mims.

Muscatine County

Intense backlash to the Muscatine City Council’s overturned ousting of Mayor Diana Broderson dominated results there. Broderson put up a statement win, defeating Charlie Harper 59% to 40%. Council candidates who harshly criticized the incumbents’ actions on the mayor won a full sweep. Kelcey Brackett beat incumbent Scott Natvig for the at-large seat, 45% to 35%. Oz Malcom crushed incumbent Michael Rehwaldt, 71% to 22% in the Ward 2 race. As Bleeding Heartland noted, Rehwaldt had run a race-baiting ad against Malcom, who is black, in the local paper. That seemed to backfire pretty badly. Nadine Brockert took the open seat in Ward 4 after blasting the council’s actions. Labor backed all four of the successful candidates.

Scott County

Democrats were excited about Rich Clewell’s 53% to 47% victory over Sean Liddell in Davenport City Council Ward 6, an area of the city where Democrats had an impossible time winning at in years’ past. Mike Matson, who considered running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, was unopposed for his council seat reelection. Victories were not limited to city races, however. Emilyne Slagle won a spot on rural Blue Grass’ city council.

Around The State

Kate Larson won a Dubuque City Council seat in convincing fashion, taking 58% of the vote. Her race was a top priority for fellow former Bernie Sanders activists around the state, as well as for local Democrats like Abby Finkenauer. Opponents tried to cast Larson as a dangerous socialist, but her campaign that focused in on parks, affordable housing, small business growth and job training made a more convincing argument for local voters.

In Sioux City, Democrat Alex Watters picked up a city council seat in a three-way race. The local Democratic activists in Woodbury County were particularly invested in his campaign.

The candidate that progressives had rallied behind in Ames, Victoria Szopinski, couldn’t overcome well-known businessman John Haila’s reputation in the community for the mayor’s seat. Haila won 58% to 42%. However, a left-leaning candidate won the Ward 3 city council seat there, with David Martin defeating Rob Bowers.

Down in Wapello County, Democrat Holly Berg won the most votes for the three at-large Ottumwa City Council, making her the only woman on the previously all-male board. Two incumbents also won. Berg may be someone to keep an eye on for future races in the Southeast Iowa area.

Jessica Kean, a promising Jackson County Iowa House candidate who got swamped in the Trump wave of 2016, won election to the Maquoketa City Council.

Former state senator Steve Sodders returned to public office – he’ll be the new mayor of State Center in Marshall County. Al Ringgenberg, the Republican senate candidate who ran against Mike Gronstal in 2012 (and in the 2016 primary), came in last of four in his reelection effort to the Council Bluffs City Council. That’s all, folks.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/8/17

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