Local attorney bidding for city council seat


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A bright yellow sunflower head above the words “Let every flower bloom” of a yard sign is the only physical evidence to date of local attorney Rockne Cole’s bid for an at-large Iowa City City Council seat.

But despite the colorful and calm connotation, he, alongside campaign treasurer Christopher Warnock, maintain the political arena over the next few months will be anything but reserved or playful.

Standing outside the City Hall on Tuesday marked the official kickoff for the pair, who in recent months have garnered public attention after opposition to the proposed downtown Moen Group high-rise, the Chauncey.

For Cole and Warnock, securing a seat on the council is more than just about stopping the construction of 20-story glass tower to be built in a transitional area between two distinct Iowa City neighborhoods. It’s about correcting the alleged mistakes by current local officials while pushing Iowa City forward in building on a number of strong suits.

Like their work on the Iowa Coalition Against the Shadow advocacy group, the pair said they’re emphasizing an almost hands-off approach, calling on both sides of political table to reach out and offer up ideas on how to improve Iowa’s fifth-largest community.

“It’s not really left or right; we’re going to look at all sides. We don’t need this top-down control,” Cole said. “That’s true of the city and this campaign. We have the same group of people running things.”

“Here, we should be this pinnacle of progressive politics, but we’ve fallen behind,” Warnock said.
Cities such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, he said, have progressed on a number of planes and believes Iowa City needs to retain its social and economic standing.

Warnock said the sunflower logo stands for many aspects of their campaign, which is founded on aggressive entrepreneurial encouragement, building sustainable neighborhoods throughout the city and the University of Iowa, expanding the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, advocating for dense, cohesive development, and maintaining the current vibrancy, notably of the downtown and North Side Marketplace.

Chief among his goals as a city councilor, Cole said, would be to establish town-hall meetings, open to the UI community, asking how the future of the city should be shaped, improving relations between tenants and their respective landlords, maintaining a small business-oriented environment, preventing suburban sprawl developments, advocating for a 19-bar entry age, addressing property-tax concerns, and curbing cases of private-public partnerships.

Warnock and Cole agreed that there are a number of challenges facing Iowa City, including the transient population, TIF expenditures, and so-called “unknown budget” concerns over the next fiscal year.

“Everyone’s going to have to compromise on an issue,” Cole said. “But, about the homeless, you can’t just say I don’t like transients and wish them gone.”

Cole’s solution to this community concern? Move the benches where homeless individuals congregate and sleep on a daily basis.

Although Cole and Warnock cried foul about a handful of current City Council measures, including a push for private-public partnerships like the recently announced Bijou-FilmScene agreement, they say not all bad has occurred under current leadership. Both applauded the work in creating neighborhood “Party in the Park” programs.

Fellow at-large candidates Kingsley Botchway and Catharine Champion said they welcome the additional competition.

Botchway, most recently served as the deputy auditor of elections in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office.

Champion is the owner of Catharine’s Boutique, 7 S. Dubuque St., and Cheap and Chic, 105 S. Dubuque St. and the daughter of longtime Councilor Connie Champion, who will not seek re-election.

Botchway said he agrees with many of Cole’s points of view, including the importance of creating walkable and sustainable areas. He said he would like to see a “cleanup” in minority and police relations, the creation of a central information hub, and improved young professional recruitment efforts.

Champion said she will run on the basis of continued core/urban development, the preservation of historic neighborhoods, and additional partnerships among local businesses. She said she would “react to things as they come up” on the City Council’s agenda.

Mayor Matt Hayek said Cole’s list of improvements “lengthy,” emphasizing the commitment.

“Running for City Council takes time and courage, and I applaud anyone that is willing to give it a shot,” he said. “I’m not going to get into a commentary about candidates for local office. [Our City Council] is a strong local democracy, and it takes people who are willing to throw their hat in the ring.”

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