Letter to the Editor: In election, consider Core Question, not Core Four

Photo by Adam Burke
Photo by Adam Burke

By Joe Younker

My three-year-old daughter has a favorite phrase. Ask her to put on her shoes or pick up her toys, odds are her response will be “It’s not necessary.” I am borrowing her phrase. It applies to rhetoric employed by some city council candidates and their supporters.

What I mean is: It is not necessary to frame the important issues facing our city as “us vs. them” propositions. Unfortunately, that is how some candidates — the self-styled “progressives” — seem to view the issues. For example, in a Press-Citizen opinion piece, one “progressive” candidate challenged readers stating, “The late great Pete Seeger once asked his followers, ‘Which side are you on, brother, which side are you on?’ We stand on behalf of the entire community rather than the politically connected few.” Apparently, membership in the “politically connected few” class simply requires disagreeing with a “progressive.”

Iowa City, however, is more complicated than a line from Pete Seeger’s cover of an old union song. Changes in property tax laws will cost Iowa City between $36 and $50 million over the next ten years. Despite that revenue hit, the next Council must address serious — and expensive — issues: affordable housing, smart growth, racial equity, fragile neighborhoods, policing practices, flood prevention, infrastructure improvements, funding for social services and transportation, among others. How will Iowa City thrive in the midst of a $50 million deficit over the next ten years? That is the Core Question for the next Council. Dissent for the sake of dissent and over-the-top rhetoric will not lead to an answer. Cooperation and pragmatism will.

Unfortunately, for some “progressives” and their supporters, the will to cooperate and be pragmatic is lacking. Moreover, they tend to paint all who disagree with them with the same brush. If you are not with them, you are against them. You are part of the Chamber-backed-in-the-pocket-of-the-developers-elite.

This approach is not necessary. It is not productive. In fact, it is possible to support the Chauncey Tower project and still be committed to affordable housing. It is possible to own a downtown business and still be committed to a strong social safety net. It is possible to grow in a way that strengthens our fragile neighborhoods.

It is impossible, though, to address the issues and answer the Core Question without cooperation and pragmatism. Candidates in the other “slate” understand this.

On November 3, please remember what is necessary — a thoughtful answer to the Core Question.

Joe Younker is an Iowa City resident.


  1. Well said.

    While I’m certain I agree with many of their positions, I don’t appreciate being demonized just because I happen to support the financing and construction of a downtown building. Because I support a particular construction project I am somehow A-OK with crony capitalism and economic injustice? This is the rhetoric being used but makes little sense and seems indicative of the tone they wish to set for the city. That tone, unfortunately, seems to be one of obstructionism of anything that doesn’t jibe with their particular brand of politics.

    You are absolutely correct, Joe, that this city is about to face some very complicated issues. These are likely decisions that must weigh multiple viewpoints with outcomes where not everyone gets what they want. I’m not sure I can support a slate of candidates who seem willing to grind the process to a halt over perceived moral certitudes. It’s an interesting urban planning philosophy but I’m not sure it’s productive.

    Managing our city through this looming fiscal situation, among other issues, will take far more than unbending ideological convictions. I believe it will take compromise and balance. It’s completely possible to be pragmatic while maintaining a progressive social agenda. Just look at Iowa City.

  2. While I agree with your point that it is not necessary to frame the issues facing the city as an us vs. them mentality, to put forth the idea that the “progressives” currently running in Iowa City are the only ones that are acting in this manner is naive. Mayor Hayek recently had an op-ed piece in the Press Citizen that used the exact same tactic.

    1. The Core Four ended up winning, so big congratulations to them. I voted for half of them.

      In the long run though I think it’s bad for small town politics to go this highly partisan route. It’s just too divisive for a slate of candidates to run on a message of “the community vs. business owners”, to march in a parade together, to sue the city. The country is already far too polarized and it’s dangerous to take this political strategy in a town where everyone knows everyone.

      Business owners, real estate developers, local bankers, and their social circle are not evil and they’re not out to “transfer wealth” away from the middle and working class. Seriously. These are people that I see everyday trying to make Iowa City a better place to live. They are just as much members of “our community” as anyone else. That shouldn’t even have to be said.

      However, I’m delighted a raise in the county minimum wage is more realistic now. I’m very happy that the Senior Center has more support, and I look forward to living in a more bikeable town. There’s a lot of good to come from our new council and I wish them the best of luck.

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