Sunday, December 17, 2017

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Civic Skinny

Mandelbaum-Kiernan city race was costliest ever. Poll favors Fred Hubbell. Godfrey case is narrowed.

12/6/2017

The race between Josh Mandelbaum and Mike Kiernan for the Third Ward council seat was the most expensive in the history of Des Moines.

Mandelbaum, an environmental lawyer, had raised $188,240 with still nearly a week to go before the Nov. 7 election, which he won with 56 percent of the vote. Kiernan, a stay-at-home dad and former member of the council who got 34 percent of the vote, raised $112,265 — including $17,000 in loans he made to himself, according to records at the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. And it’s likely that each candidate raised additional money in the week before the election, for the race was predicted to be closer than it actually turned out. Those final money figures won’t be public until Jan. 19.

The job pays $26,000 a year.

The combined total of more than $300,000 dwarfs the previous high, the at-large race between Skip Moore and Chris Diebel four years ago. In that race, Diebel raised about $75,000 in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Moore, who raised around $35,000.

And the $300,000 this year doesn’t include any money raised by Abshir Omar, who got 9.38 percent of the vote but hasn’t filed a financial report.

Ames Chamber

The two largest contributors not related to a candidate were Bill Knapp and Jim Cownie, each of whom gave $7,500 to Kiernan, who also got big checks from other real-estate developers. Jim Conlin and the Iowa Realtors PAC each was in for $5,000, Mike Whalen contributed $3,500 and Jack Hatch $2,500. (But Hatch also gave $1,000 to Mandelbaum, and Conlin’s wife, Roxanne, gave $2,500 to Mandelbaum.) Architect Mike Simonson gave $5,000.

Mandelbaum’s family members — his father, mother, brother and aunt — contributed around $20,000. And the Nixon Lauridsen family — Lauridsen; his ex-wife, Nancy; his daughter, Christine Sand; and her husband, Rob Sand — gave a total of $15,000. Rob Sand, who recently resigned as an assistant attorney general to run for state auditor, was a roommate of Mandelbaum in law school at the University of Iowa.

Mandelbaum also picked up big checks from traditional Democratic givers: Fred Hubbell, Bob Riley, Michael Gartner and Fred Weitz each gave $5,000, as did three labor political action committees.

The race brought out a lot of voters. The turnout for the city as a whole was 14.37 percent of the registered voters, according to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, but the turnout in the Third Ward was 24.22 percent, far higher than usual for a city election. The Third Ward is basically the city’s southwest quadrant, which includes the Sherman Hill, South of Grand and downtown neighborhoods. The seat has been held by Christine Hensley for 24 years. Mandelbaum announced he would run against her; she subsequently decided to retire, and Kieran then got into the race.

Mandelbaum worked harder than Kiernan — Mandelbaum was constantly out knocking on doors — but it was believed Kiernan had a better absentee-vote program. In the end, though, the absentees were about even — 670 for Kiernan and 630 for Mandelbaum.

The victory launches what could be a long political career for Mandelbaum. It wouldn’t be a bad bet that Mandelbaum or his friend Sand or their friend Joseph Jones will end up as Governor or United States Senator at some point, especially if Sand is elected state auditor.

Jones, a one-time staffer for Tom Harkin, later the senior vice president for governmental relations at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and now the executive director of the Harkin Institute at Drake, was elected to the Windsor Heights City Council last month, and it’s doubtful that that was his life’s goal. All three are bright and well-connected. Jones is 40, Mandelbaum 38 and Sand 35.

[The Windsor Heights race was hotly contested, with nine candidates seeking three seats. The main issue was sidewalks — build more or let people walk on the lawns or in the streets — and the turnout was 42.19 percent. Jones is a pro-sidewalk guy, and that faction kept control of the five-person council. But the new mayor, Dave Burgess, is in the anti-sidewalk camp, and he controls the agenda.] …

Unless you read Starting Line, a Democratic blog, or the Cedar Rapids Gazette, you probably didn’t see a poll ranking the seven Democrats seeking the party’s gubernatorial nomination. If your name is Andy McGuire or John Norris, it’s probably best you didn’t see it.

The poll was commissioned by Starting Line and conducted by 20/20 Insight of Atlanta, a legitimate but not very well-regarded polling firm. (Nate Silver, who ranks pollsters, gives it a C-; in contrast, he gives Selzer and Co., which runs the Register’s Iowa Poll, an A+.) It was taken Nov. 8 to Nov. 10, and it queried 762 Democrats who expected to vote in the June 5 primary. It was conducted through automated phone dialing but weighted for demographic purposes.

Right or wrong, it shows retired businessman Fred Hubbell with a big lead in name recognition, in “favorability” and in the race itself. And it shows what those who have been following the race have long believed: The seven-person field is evolving into a two-person race — with labor-lawyer Nate Boulton the challenger with the best shot against Hubbell.

The results: Hubbell is favored by 22 percent, Boulton by 13, Cathy Glasson by 6, Norris by 5, McGuire by 3, Jon Neiderbach by 2 and Ross Wilburn by 1 percent of the respondents.

On name “favorability,” Hubbell was at 50 percent, Boulton at 31, McGuire at 21, Norris at 19, Glasson at 13 and Neiderbach at 9. Wilburn didn’t show up on the list. A full 64 percent of the respondents had never heard of Glasson, 59 percent of Neiderbach, 57 percent of Norris, 48 percent of McGuire and 44 percent of Boulton. Only 24 percent of the respondents had never heard of Hubbell — who has the added advantage of having a major Des Moines street, a downtown building, a school and a large real-estate company all bearing his family name.

Financial reports don’t have to be filed until Jan. 19, but it’s widely believed Hubbell is significantly ahead in raising money, too. …

Attorney Roxanne Conlin has streamlined the case her client Chris Godfrey has filed against the state and several of its former officials. The suit, about to enter its sixth year, alleges Gov. Terry Branstad and others tried to fire him as head of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Board and, when that didn’t work, they cut his pay. Godfrey was a Democrat with a fixed term that still had 46 months to run. He also was the only openly gay member of the Branstad administration. The suit alleges extortion, retaliation, defamation and discrimination.

Charges remain against all defendants acting in their official capacity, but allegations alleging wrongdoing in their individual capacities have been dropped against now-governor Kim Reynolds, former head of Workforce Development Teresa Wahlert, and former Communications Director Tim Albrecht. The major allegations against the state remain, too. Branstad, former chief of staff Jeff Boeyink and former Legal Counsel to the Governor Brenna Findley still face charges in their individual as well as their official capacities.

The case has twice been to the Iowa Supreme Court on narrow issues, and still no trial date has been set. Another conference of parties is scheduled for Dec. 18, and a trial now is likely sometime next year. The case now is in the courtroom of Polk County District Judge Brad McCall.

So far, the state has paid about $1 million to George LaMarca’s law firm, which it hired at the request of Branstad because of a perceived conflict involving the Attorney General’s office. But lately, the state seems to have taken over most of the legal work, and LaMarca’s bills have been declining. If Godfrey wins, the state will probably end up paying Conlin’s bills, too. If the case goes to trial, the taxpayers may end up paying out close to $3 million in fees.
The case itself is about $150,000 — the amount Godfrey’s salary was cut for the 46 months that were remaining in his term. …

Another high-stakes case is also working its way through Polk County District Court. In June, Doug Ommen, the state insurance director, sued the founders of the failed CoOportunity Health and its Seattle-based auditing firm alleging, among other things, that Steve Ringlee, Dave Lyons and Cliff Gold wrongfully took money out of the company.

Lyons is a former Iowa insurance commissioner, Gold a former executive at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Ringlee an accountant and Internet entrepreneur with a spotty record.

CoOportunity was set up as a nonprofit health-insurance company under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2013 by Ringlee, Lyons and Gold, who became the three top officers of the company. It was financed through more than $100 million in loans from the federal government. Ultimately, it insured around 114,000 Iowans and Nebraskans — more than 10 times what the auditors had projected — and it was in trouble almost from Day One. Claims costs far exceeded the projections of the auditors, and the company lost $163 million in its first year. It was liquidated in 2015.

Ommen is the liquidator, whose job is to protect whatever assets remain for claimants, creditors and the public.
The suit alleges that “even when it became clear the company was going down, the founders received bonuses.” It says Lyons received $546,074 in pay from 2012 through 2014, Ringlee $672,267 over four years and Gold $650,696. The three men “knew, recklessly disregarded, or negligently disregarded the financial condition of the company when they approved and accepted compensation increases and bonus/incentive payments” in the fall of 2014, the suit says.

It calls the compensation “inappropriate and excessive.”

The suit alleges malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and negligent misrepresentation against the auditors and breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and fraud against the founders. It asks for unspecified but “consequential” and “exemplary” damages.

No trial date has been set. A hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 8 in the courtroom of Jeanie Vaudt. …

Marty Tirrell’s bankruptcy case was officially closed on Oct. 31 by the Federal Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The court refused to discharge his debts, so he still is on the hook for several hundred thousands of dollars. ♦

Merry Christmas

Twelve drummers drumming…

…for a parade of politicians: Austin Frerick, a 27-year-old with grit and brains and ideas…and Neal Smith, a 97-year-old with grit and brains and ideas (and a newly renewed driver’s license)… and lawyer Josh Mandelbaum, who’s smart and tireless and now is a City Councilman…and Council winner Connie Boesen, too…and Councilwoman Renee Hardman, who pulled an upset in West Des Moines…. For Rob Sand, who wants to be state auditor…and Abshir Omar, who is impressive. …

Eleven pipers piping…

…for Emily Pontius and Sharon Malhiero and Anjie Shutts and Roxanne Conlin and Terry Combs and Kimberly Stamatelos and Amanda Jansen and all those other women following in the footsteps of Iowa’s Belle Mansfield, America’s first female lawyer, and Bea Smith, who broke ground in Des Moines…and for Judges Mary Tabor and Stephanie Rose and Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger and, of course, Magistrate Celeste Bremer…and Iowa’s Mona Houck, a First Amendment lawyer who fights for the good guys in New York. …

Ten lords a-leaping…

…and then stuffing the ball for Niko Medved, the new Drake basketball coach, and his boss, new Athletic Director Brian Hardin…And, of course, for women’s…and if they want to know anything about Drake, they just need to walk over and ask Paul Morrison, still working at age 100…And, of course, for women’s coach Jennie Baranczyk, whose teams deserve bigger crowds (and for her brother-in-law, banker Terry McGuire, too)…for former athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb, now back in Arizona…and the new folks owning and running the Bucs…and Todd Frederickson and the people at the Iowa Wild…and Ryan Grant, new to the Iowa Wolves but not to Des Moines…and all those surprising athletes at Grand View, especially the wrestlers and volleyball players…and athletic director Troy Plummer, of course…and to former pitcher Don Wengert and Katie and Robbie, especially. …               

Nine ladies dancing…

…on the restored Jackson Street Bridge in thanks to Carl Voss, who saved it, and Paula Feltner and Mike C. Gartner and Vicki Facto and Mike Rehm and Troy Hansen…and, especially, to Mell Meredith, who bought in from the beginning, and Musco’s generous Joe Crookham, who turned the beautiful bridge into a piece of art by lighting it (as a gift to the city)…and, of course, to Parks Director Ben Page, who was always there as a guide through the bureaucracy…and Matt McCoy, who helped secure a big state grant…and the county supervisors, who chipped in handsomely…and the city council members who gave the green light to the green bridge…for the amazing Mirza Kudic, who captured the bridge in a spectacular photograph…and, naturally, to the families and companies who gave the money to make it happen. …

Eight maids a-milking…

…for bloggers Laura Belin and Pay Rynard…reporters Kathy Bolten and Tommy Birch…editor Carol Hunter and publisher David Chivers…publisher Connie Wimer (and Frank Fogarty)…photographers Christopher Gannon and Chris Donahue (who will sell you a Subaru after he takes your picture)…and Dave and Randy Witke, two great editors…for pr guys Josh Lehman and John McCarroll…for a quartet of Jeffs: Hunter and Fleming and Chelesvig and Russell…for two former broadcasters with great voices: federal judge Jim Gritzner and Supervisor Steve Van Oort…and for Celeste Tilton and Shane Goodman and everyone else at CITYVIEW. …

Seven swans a-swimming…

…for Governor and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds (legally, she is both)…and independent legislator David Johnson, who asked for the Attorney General’s opinion about whether she is governor or lieutenant governor…and Attorney General-for-life Tom Miller, who determined Reynolds is both…and new Supreme Court administrator Todd Nuccio (and welcome to Iowa) and the retiring administrator, David Boyd (and Nancy Boyd, too)…and, while we’re at the court, for Steve Davis, too…for retired Justice Bob Allbee and Jenny Johnson Allbee (Roosevelt High, Class of 1956)…and welcome back to Iowa, Christopher and Melissa Pratt (and little Henry as well). …

Six geese a-laying…

…no, wait, no goose eggs allowed on the scoreboard. At least not for the home team and season-ticket holders Pat Brown and Joe Hall and fans-of-the-year Rosemary and George Ellwanger…and lawyer Gary Dickey and artist Dwight James and the Fontaninis, Tom and Cheryl…and fisherman Guy Cook and Cyndi…and legislator Marti Anderson and justices David Wiggins and Mark Cady (and Marsha Wiggins and Becky Cady)…and Rose Vasquez and Bob and Rose Mary Pratt…and Sue and Audrey, who need no last names…and Danny and Colleen Homan and Tyler Steinke in his front-row seat, of course. …

Five golden rings…

…for Christine Hensley, who worked so long and so hard for the city, and Skip Moore, who did the same…and Windsor Heights councilman-elect Joseph Jones, who knows everyone…and Zachary and Mackenzie and Christopher and Maggie, the world’s greatest grandkids…and all those courteous people at Keck Parking at the airport…and, for that matter, Bill Keck, too (Roosevelt High School, Class of 1956)…and Ben Bruns, who should run for office…for the always-cheerful Shelby Cravens and her mom and dad in Utah…to Beth Giudicessi, once again the employee of the year, and runner-up Nick Bernabe…to Hugo Giudicessi, too, and his grandma Cheryl. …

Four collie birds…

…for Izaah Knox and Wayne Ford at Urban Dreams…and Toby O’Berry at the homeless youth drop-in center downtown…and E.J. Giovannitti, who cares about the mentally ill…and so do Anne Starr and everyone else at Orchard Place…for everyone who volunteers at the Bidwell-Riverside Center on Hartford Ave. (and now would be a good time to send a check or take over those clothes you never wear or have outgrown)…and Tim Shanahan, who provides shelter for moms and kids at Hawthorn Hill….

Three French hens…

…for Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen of Storm Lake, whose forthcoming book about Storm Lake will have the catchy title “Storm Lake”…and Nix Lauridsen and Gary Kirke, newly inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame…for Scott Sailor, who is sort of retiring, and his dad, Bill, in Albia…for Gary Palmer at Prairie Meadows and Gary Slater at the State Fair…for Grace Mauro and her husband…for Janet Peterson and her friends in mourning who founded Count the Kicks — and for all those healthy babies saved by those kick-counting moms. …

Two turtle doves….

…for labor’s Mark Cooper, a good guy…for Matt and Stephanie Sinovic and their new baby…for Robert Warren, who keeps bringing great entertainment to Hoyt Sherman Place…for former Mayor Pat Dorrian and former Councilman Archie Brooks, who can tell stories about the good old days…for Ben and Pat Allen, who so ably filled in at Iowa State…and to Dan Miller, who is loved by everyone. …

And a partridge in a pear tree…

…in memory of Paul Morrison, a lovely (and 100-year-old) man…and of Don Avenson and Cal Hultman, good guys and good politicians…and one-time city manager Rich Wilkey, who knew where the levers were…and the murdered Stephen Kim…and Joy Corning and Willie Glanton, pioneers who cared…and Buck Turnbull, one of the greats…and Noah (as in Noah’s Ark) Lacona and Marilyn (“Mrs. Snookie,” as in Snookies Malt Shop) Graves…and the talented Ron Shoop…And Dolores and Darlene Van Oort, mother and daughter-in-law…and Nick Tormey, who led an interesting life…and Verle Burgason of Ames, a gentleman…and Dick Levitt, who changed this city…and Stacey Henderson and Bruce Campbell and Sam Kalanov and Orville Crowley and Dave Noble…and the garrulous Dick Thornton…and AFSCME’s Deb Duncan…and Win Kelley and Ann Karras…for Sophie Vlassis, great teacher and good citizen…and Chuck Corwin, who sincerely cared…and John Tapscott, who saved lives…for scholar Tom Lynner…and Don Nickerson… and Hawkeye fan and nice guy Tim Darrah… and young Dallon Morris, who was buried in his Miracle League uniform…especially for little Ella Vilsack…and, always, for the first Christopher. ♦

One Comment

  1. Wonderful and informative thoughts again, and Michael Gartner’s annual Christmas present to Cityview readers.

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