Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, in office since 2003, will not run for reelection

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie (center) holds the Des Moines flag in October 2019. — via @cowniefordsm on Twitter

Frank Cownie announced on Wednesday he will not run for another term as mayor of Des Moines in November’s election. The 75-year-old Cownie is in his fifth term as mayor, and is the longest-serving mayor in Des Moines history.

“It has been one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to serve as your mayor,” he said in an open letter to Des Moines residents published early Wednesday morning.

Cownie was first elected mayor in 2003. He had served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and as an at-large member of the Des Moines City Council before his first run for mayor. In the 2003 city election, Cownie defeated Councilmember Christine Hensley, earning 16,581 votes to Hensley’s 13,848. As the Des Moines Register noted, that election was the last time any mayoral candidate in Des Moines received more than 10,000 votes.

Cownie was easily reelected in 2007, 2011 and 2015, but in the 2019 election he only beat real estate developer and former state senator Jack Hatch by 281 votes.

As mayor, Cownie has been at the center of the changes Des Moines has experienced over the last 20 years. In his letter, Cownie listed some of what he considers his major accomplishments, from efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown core, which he says led to “a renaissance that brought vitality to downtown and served as a model for other cities throughout the United States,” to the use of the one-cent optional sale and service tax to fund “property tax relief, enhanced public safety, expanded library hours, mental health crisis response, flood mitigation and a historic allocation of $427 million in street construction and repair.”

Cownie is part of the fourth-generation of his family born in Des Moines. He graduated from Roosevelt High in 1966 and briefly attended Iowa State University before going to work in his family business, Cownie Furs. In his letter, Cownie said that after he leaves office he plans to devote more time to his family and his family business.

As recently as late July, Cownie told reporters he was leaning towards running for another term. He did not explain what changed his mind in his letter.

“There are other roles for me in the years ahead,” he said.

There are already three declared candidates for mayor in this year’s election: at-large Councilmember Connie Boesen, Ward 3 Councilmember Josh Mandelbaum and community activist Denver Foote. The 2024 city and school election is scheduled for Nov. 7.

This story originally appeared in LV Daily, Little Village’s Monday-Friday email newsletter. Sign up to have it delivered for free to your inbox.