Word on the street about the Cedar Rapids city election is that there’s not much word on the street.
Interest, it seems, is low. Early votes are trickling in at a slower rate than in past years. Not even a metro-wide sales tax extension vote has stirred the shrugging electorate.
City elections aren’t exactly big draws, but this one feels like it’s on track to fall short of even low expectations. Maybe it’s the fact that the mayor’s race isn’t as compelling as it was four years ago, when recovery still was hanging in the balance. The tax proposal is important, but it’s also the third sales tax vote in as many years. Issues such as flood protection, downtown projects and streets have been debated and re-debated plenty. Fatigue may be setting in.
The good news is that it’s not all old news. City candidates have been stopping by the paper over the last week or so for endorsement interviews. And they’ve got ideas.
A couple of the candidates have an interesting take on neighborhood and small business development. At-large hopeful Anthony Brown thinks the city should partner with microlenders to back very small loans for people starting small businesses or community-based projects. He also points to the Neighborhood Finance Corp. in Des Moines, a lending entity backed by the city and Polk County, which provides forgivable loans to property owners making needed improvements. That seems like a smart approach in a city like Cedar Rapids that’s pushing to clean up nuisance properties.
District 3 candidate Robin Kash also talks about the potential for microlending and says he’ll donate a portion of his monthly council paycheck to back community projects. Kash also would like to find a way to allow neighborhoods to form self-supporting improvement districts, such as the downtown district, and modestly tax themselves to pay for neighborhood needs.
Several candidates said that the city should be doing a lot more to encourage watershed management efforts upstream, including forging alliances with communities and landowners. They contend watershed efforts have received too little focus amid a push for bucks to build levees and flood walls. And they’re right.
Multiple candidates also support a good old idea: holding city council meetings in the evening when more people can attend. Might drum up some interest in city issues and maybe even elections.