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Reaction to Coralville elections

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | NOVEMBER 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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Newly elected officials from Coralville’s municipal election hope to move forward as a community after the unexpected national attention and personal recognition by Vice President Joe Biden that was drawn to the small city of 20,000.

Americans for Prosperity’s heavy involvement in Coralville’s elections drew attention from media outlets nationwide, but ultimately backfired at the ballot box when the candidates who aligned with the group’s views failed to win the election. Americans for Prosperity did not endorse specific candidates but instead certain ideas.

“The approach that they [Americans for Prosperity] brought to Coralville through its door-knocking efforts, telephone calling, and direct mailing, all of those efforts to spread untrue statements and propaganda backfired on them,” said newly elected Mayor John Lundell. “We’re not like Detroit, Mich. They tried to compare us to them, but Coralville is actually thriving.”

Lundell said he was surprised to receive a personal congratulatory call from Biden following his win.

“My cell phone rang and I saw a 2-1-2 area code, and I knew that was D.C.,” Lundell said. “[Biden] said, ‘Well I’ve taken an interest in your race in Coralville because of the involvement of the Koch brothers. After I heard you were in a race involving them, I wanted to call and say congratulations about having fought them back by a large margin.’ ”

Mark Lucas, Iowa director of Americans for Prosperity, previously told The Daily Iowan the groups focus in this election was to educate voters on the debt crisis.

“It creates an issue that affects the entire state; they diverted taxes away from the School District and invested it in the Iowa River Landing,” Lucas said in an Oct. 10 interview.  “It’s a pretty big issue, and one of the biggest reasons is because the leadership don’t know how to use [tax-increment financing] properly.”

Moving forward, Lundell said he doesn't think the community wants to make drastic changes but rather push forward with existing plans.

“The good thing about being in the position I’m in is the city is in fine shape physically [and] financially,” he said. “It’s just a good opportunity to take a deep breath and say, ‘Well, we’ve been doing it this way for these years; is there a way that we can do things better?’ ”

One of the roles as mayor, Lundell said, is to be a leader of City Council and to keep everyone on the same page. Having councilors elected with aligned views of the Americans for Prosperity, he said, would have made his role as mayor much harder as far as finding common ground among the city council.

Re-elected City Councilor Tom Gill also received a call from Biden following the municipal elections.

Gill said the involvement of Americans for Prosperity turned the small city’s elections into a national conversation, adding, the untruths the organization started hindered upon the city’s discussion of issues surrounding the election.

“You’re getting a lot of national interest because of the Koch brothers,” he said. “If these people are not stopped, they’re going to continue taking on good honest elected officials, and it’s just going to become a circus.”

University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle, said part of the reason for Coralville’s record turnout can be attributed to the election’s national attention.

“Municipal elections, they’re usually sleepy affairs or low-key affairs, you don’t usually have that have kind of outside money coming in,” Hagle said. “Usually, the opponents will try to make an issue of it. There’s all of a sudden a reaction on the part of the voters of a ‘why are you here’ kind of a feeling.”

Hagle also said Biden’s personal recognition of Lundell and Gill could have had further incentives toward the presidential election of 2016.

“The new mayor of Waterloo also got a call from Vice President Joe Biden,” Hagle said. “It looks like he is trying to make friends in Iowa in case he decides to run for president in 2016.”

While the American’s for Prosperity endured a large loss to the city of Coralville, Hagle said its political efforts might have a different effect on residents in the community.

“If nothing else, even if the City Council wants to continue with its current plan, at the least what the American’s for Prosperity have done is raise awareness about what’s going on,” he said. “I think that not to say that the City Council before had been making any mistakes, but it will need to keep the voters more informed because voters will be more concerned [going forward].”


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