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Election too nasty for some

But others say questions about management style aren't personal attacks

Posted October 31, 1999

By Pam Hinman
Gazette staff writer

Editorial: Vote for people who see the big picture

CEDAR RAPIDS -- Dale Todd hopes that when his 6-month-old son, Adam, is old enough to vote he will see a campaign free of the negative overtones Todd says has permeated this City Council campaign.

Todd made those comments at a televised candidate forum last week. His remarks echo the feelings of all the incumbents and many election watchers, who say this campaign has been marked by more personal attacks than other elections in recent memory.

Council challengers and critics have used the campaign to focus on what what they believe is the council's arrogance and lack of accessibility.

Larry Johnson, who is challenging Lee Clancey for mayor, is basing his campaign on his skills as a counselor and his willingness to listen to people.

Gary Craig is using a similar tactic in his campaign against Todd for parks commissioner. Craig says people he meets when campaigning cite lack of accessibility as their main complaint about the council.

While incumbents are stinging from what they say is unfair criticism, some observers don't know what all the fuss is about.

"I haven't seen it that way," said Robert M.L. Johnson, who was mayor from 1962 to 1968. "The opponents have asked questions. Nobody's gotten personal. In fact, I've been telling my peers around here that this campaign is based on some issues, the landfill in particular."

Bruce Nesmith, an associate professor of political science at Coe College, said from what he's observed, comments have not been personal, but rather about council management style.

"Everything has stuck to questions about management of the city or management capabilities," he said. "Some might see that as unfair or as one-sided or something like that, but, to me at least, the discussion has remained on management. They're not talking about people's families."

Nonetheless, each incumbent has tried to counter the charges: Todd says a "negative campaign" is a way for Craig to avoid real issues. Clancey says she's held hundreds of meetings involving thousands of people over the past 3 1/2 years.

Two weeks ago, anonymous faxes criticizing the mayor's mileage payment for a charity ride and the council's involvement with Bluestem Solid Waste Agency were sent to businesses. Clancey called a press conference, saying the fax campaign was cowardly. The next day, Johnson called a press conference to deny involvement with the faxes.

Joe Harris, an attorney representing a family that wants to sell land near Viola for a new landfill, finally admitted sending the faxes.

The last three weeks at City Council meetings, the public comment period has taken more than two hours. The actual council meeting, where resolutions are approved and ordinances adopted, usually takes about 30 minutes.

During the comment periods, many pointed questions were asked of council members about everything from the timing of their bathroom breaks to telling them to be less secretive about council business.

Streets Commissioner Don Thomas said critics complain the council is not accessible, yet a 20-minute period after the meeting during which people may meet with commissioners individually is rarely used.

There have been several instances where people speaking at the podium are asked by the council to meet with them after the meeting only to have the speaker decline the invitation.

Some citizens say they want the council to provide an answer in public, in front of the camera so everyone can hear what is said.

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