Cedar Rapids City Council candidates discuss top priorities, reasons for running at League of Women Voters forum

Cedar Rapids City Hall — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Candidates for the Cedar Rapids City Council shared their vision and plans for the city at a Sept. 26 forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Linn County (LWV).

However, when the second panel of the night began, featuring candidates for the two at-large seats on the November ballot, only two of the three candidates were present. Jorel Robinson’s seat was empty.

On Sunday, Robinson told Little Village he did receive a “last minute” email about the forum, but the timing of the forum conflicted with a previously scheduled campaign event.

The format of the forum was simple: candidates had two minutes for opening and closing statements, and the same amount of time for their answers to questions posed by the moderator. The time limit did not seem to be a constraint, as all of the candidates managed to finish their answers within the allotted time.

Questions for the candidates were submitted in writing by members of audience at CSPS Hall, and read by the moderators.

Linda Langston, a former member of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, moderated the first panel featuring the District 2 candidates, Sofia Mehaffey and incumbent Scott Overland, and former mayor of Cedar Rapids Lee Clancey moderated the second forum, which had two of the at-large candidates, Patrick Loeffler and incumbent Ann Poe.

“I have had the opportunity to serve on the city council,” said Clancey, who was mayor from 1996 to 2002. “It is not only one of the most difficult jobs that I ever had, but it was also the most rewarding job that I ever had. … It’s a very complex job. It is the government that is closest to the people.”

Incumbent Scott Overland (left) and Sofia Mehaffey (right) during the first forum of the League of Women Voters event at CSPS Hall, Sept. 30, 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Sofia Mehaffey

Sofia Mehaffey moved to Cedar Rapids approximately 14 years ago with her two children. Mehaffey said that when she arrived in the city, she was overwhelmed by the resources available to low-income families.

“Statistically, as someone who became a mother at 16 years old, it’s almost impossible that I’m sitting in front of you today,” Mehaffey said. “I hope to ensure that achieving the American Dream the way that my family has against all odds remains possible for all people in this community.”

Mehaffey’s top priorities are addressing food insecurity, public health and issues facing seniors. She also brought up the importance of looking into ways to alleviate flooding, which has impacted the homes of many District 2 residents.

When asked how to support the growing diversity in Cedar Rapids, Mehaffey said it’s important to be “mindful of the needs of diverse members of this community.”

“I hope to continue listening to constituents, finding out about issues that are important to them and working to ensure this is a city that works for everyone here,” Mehaffey said.

In response to a question about Cargill’s intention to build a rail yard in Cedar Rapids, even though the company’s plan to do that failed to pass the city council last month, Mehaffey said there needs to be a solution to address Cargill’s needs, but “not at the expense of the well-being of the people in our community.”

“It’s largely a public health issue, as well as an issue related to the well-being of homeowners,” Mehaffey said. “It’s really important that we put the well-being of our citizens before the well-being of corporate interests, whether or not that corporate interest happens to be a large employer.”

Scott Overland

One of the best things about Cedar Rapids is the diversity in the city, Scott Overland said. But in order to support the growing diversity in the city, he emphasized the importance of having affordable housing, something he worked on in his first years on the city council.

“My main goal in my first term was the Neighborhood Finance Corporation, which helped people buy homes in the core of our neighborhoods,” Overland said. “As we move along with our growing population, we need to have the ability for people to be able to move into areas that they can afford.”

Overland also discussed the importance of continuing flood protection, “an issue that affects a lot of the homeowners in District 2.”

“One of the goals when I asked to be elected four years ago was to create a stiff topsoil rule so when developers are building new homes in Cedar Rapids … that they have to maintain either four inches of topsoil or eight inches of compostable material,” Overland said. “The state law was greatly weakened to where there were ways of getting around it, and I felt that was wrong.”

Overland said he believes Cargill needs a rail yard, and there needs to be a solution.

“The last thing we want to do is lose Cargill as a major employer of Cedar Rapids,” Overland said.

Incumbent Ann Poe (left) and Patrick Loeffler (right) during the night’s second forum that highlighted at-large candidates. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Ann Poe

What Ann Poe brings as an at-large candidate for city council, she said, is eight years of experience as an incumbent councilmember. This experience has been crucial to her understanding the issues and challenges in Cedar Rapids.

“I think I bring a lot to the table … a strong understanding of the community, of our needs and the issues that face us,” Poe said. “I am certainly ready to serve again and feel like we still have a lot of work to do.”

If elected to a third term, Poe said she wants to focus on supporting infrastructure programs (like Paving for Progress), formalize housing initiatives and complete the flood control system “as quickly as possible.”

“2016 isn’t going to be the last time we’re going to have a flood, and we need to be prepared and we need to be ready,” Poe said.

She also spoke about the importance of supporting neighborhoods and addressing concerns of public safety in Cedar Rapids.

“Safe and secure neighborhoods are at the core of what city officials must offer [their] citizens,” Poe said. “By supporting and promoting strong neighborhood associations, the city council will continue to engage. They’ll continue to have conversations with the citizens surrounding public safety.”

“Focusing on job creation along with economic development, that momentum helps these neighborhoods and helps in solving some of those crime issues, as well.”

Patrick Loeffler

Patrick Loeffler said his negotiation skills and experience as vice president of a carpenter’s union will be helpful if elected.

“Being in the union, negotiating for my members, I take that very personally because I represent them,” Loeffler said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Republican, if they’re Democrat, if they’re independent, right-wing, left-wing. … Their issues are my issues, and that’s the way I feel about the city of Cedar Rapids.”

Loeffler listed local labor and small business opportunities and flood protection as his priorities. He also mentioned the importance of public safety, especially in light of recent shootings and alleged gang activity in Cedar Rapids. Another aspect included in public safety is curbing youth violence, which Loeffler said could be addressed by strengthening neighborhood associations and after-school programs.

Loeffler said he needs to look at the bus routes before suggesting changes to public transportation, but said adding additional bus stops or routes is worth considering.

“I will dedicate myself to making Cedar Rapids a better city,” Loeffler said. “This is my passion, to help people, help everybody, not just my union members or the construction world. It’s about helping Cedar Rapids. … Cedar Rapids has a lot to look forward in the future, and I really want to be a part of that.”

Jorel Robinson

Little Village reached out to at-large candidate Jorel Robinson, since he wasn’t at the forum. Robinson, who currently works for GoDaddy and is also a board member at Horizons: A Family Services Alliance, told Little Village in a phone interview on Sunday that he wants the city to do more about gun violence.

“I had a friend who was shot by a police officer, and besides that, just the number of kids I know in this community who have experienced gun violence,” Robinson said.

He said he would like to see more affordable housing in Cedar Rapids, which the city needs if it is going to continue to grow. He would also focus on improving how the city council shares information, so that people in the city are aware of what is happening.

“As a person who works at GoDaddy, that’s all I think about,” Robinson said. “There are so many updated ways to get this information out to people.”

“Our elected officials should be trying to create excitement in our city and give people a reason to want to live in Cedar Rapids and have a family here.”

The Cedar Rapids city elections will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5. In-person absentee voting begins on Monday, Oct. 7.

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