GOP Attacks On Greenfield’s Business Record Mislead Voters

By Elizabeth Meyer

June 24, 2020

State and national Republicans have run with the claim in conservative media that Theresa Greenfield “evicted” tenants from an Iowa strip mall when she was president of a real estate firm, but the facts are less explosive than the GOP alleges.

As the general election contest for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat officially began this month, Sen. Joni Ernst’s campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Party of Iowa have been working to frame Greenfield as a “failed businesswoman.”

One of the NRSC’s ads attacks Greenfield for a real estate development project she oversaw several years ago as president of Colby Interests, in Windsor Heights.

“Greenfield threw out mom and pop businesses,” the ad alleges, “to clear the way for a big box store.”

In the 30-second ad, the NRSC is careful not to use the word “eviction” because of its specific legal connotation, but conservative media and NRSC staff have run with the line of attack despite its falsehoods.

The Des Moines Register and other local outlets reported in 2015 on Apple Valley Shopping Center at the time it was slated to become Midtown Center. In order to accommodate the redevelopment, existing small businesses had two choices: stay and pay higher rent or move out. (Ultimately, Colby’s initial plan to demolish part of Apple Valley to make way for an Aldi grocery store was not approved, and the company decided instead to remodel the existing buildings and forego Midtown Center.)

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A May 1 article in the Washington Free Beacon falsely claims Greenfield “personally signed eviction notices” for the Apple Valley tenants.

While Greenfield did send letters to tenants alerting them their tenancy at Apple Valley would expire on Sept. 30, 2015, that is different than an eviction notice, which requires landlords to obtain a court order by filing an eviction action. Greenfield’s written notice in July 2015 to tenants such as Fitness Sports, Golf Headquarters, The Rookie and others, provided them notice 73 days ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. According to Iowa Landlord-Tenant Law, landlords must provide at least 30 days written notice of intent to terminate a tenant’s lease agreement.

In a 2015 television report, KCCI displays a letter to Anders Olson, owner of The Rookie, from Greenfield stating that Olson’s five-year lease agreement with Colby Interests spanned July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2015. At the time Greenfield sent a letter in July 2015 asking Olson to vacate the property, his lease agreement was on a “month-to-month” basis.

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“It is common practice when redeveloping commercial real estate to not renew leases as they expire; they were not evicted,” said Michele Stevens, a past president of Commercial Real Estate Women Iowa.

The Register interviewed business owners back in 2015 when they were preparing to move out of Apple Valley.

Steven Bobenhouse, the owner of Fitness Sports, said his store’s new location in Clive is “nicer and more contemporary” than the Apple Valley sites, built in 1979 and 1984. Olson, who runs a sports card and memorabilia shop, thought the new Midtown Center would be “a good thing for Windsor Heights. It’s a real nice neighborhood and rebuilding the center will bring new business to Windsor Heights,” he told the Register in Sept. 2015.

Gary Updegraff, owner of Golf Headquarters, said he was “looking forward to the move. This building is getting old and tired.” Maria Groceries and Gifts, an ethnic food store, was in the Apple Valley complex for 13 years before the remodel and continues to rent space there today.

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Though Updegraff was optimistic about the move, he told the Register in an Aug. 11, 2015, article, “A lot of tenants were blindsided by the fact they were going to have to move.”

As the article notes, however, the redevelopment project “has been in the works for months.”

Republicans’ claim that tenants were “evicted” by Greenfield from the storefronts isn’t correct.

Another NRSC ad centered on Greenfield’s business record also stretches the truth, as the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted in a recent fact-check.

The Gazette dug into an ad about Greenfield’s time at Rottlund Homes, a Minnesota-based homebuilding company. The 30-second spot claims the company “destroyed Iowa jobs” and pins the closure of the business on Greenfield, even though she did not own or run the multi-state company.

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Rottlund went out of business in 2011 in the aftermath of the Great Recession’s impact on the housing market, a fact the NRSC does not mention when accusing Greenfield of being a “failed businesswoman and a phony.”

The Gazette found the ad’s claims about Rottlund Homes to be “largely true,” but gave it a C rating because “they put responsibility on Greenfield without also proving her culpability.”

The Republican Party of Iowa also is pushing the NRSC’s negative talking points about Greenfield, releasing a new digital ad this week about the displaced Apple Valley tenants.

Jeff Kaufmann, chair of the Iowa GOP, went so far as to hold a press conference in order to highlight a letter to Greenfield, signed by 11 Iowa small business owners, questioning her decisions at the helm of Colby Interests. Several of the people on the letter, however, are county-level leaders on Ernst’s reelection campaign.


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 6/24/20

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