Cedar Rapids Councilwoman Eyeing First District Congressional Seat
By Rick Smith, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS — Can the talent pool for Congressional candidates extend to City Hall?
City Council member Monica Vernon is all-but certain she is going to try to find out.
Vernon, the city’s mayor pro tem and a two-term council member, on Tuesday said she is nearly ready to announce a run to become the Democratic candidate to replace Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Braley is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin, who is retiring.
Vernon said she hoped to formally decide about her candidacy by month’s end.
"I’ve talked to my family, and my family is extremely supportive," said Vernon, who is married to Bill Vernon, a Cedar Rapids attorney. "And my three daughters are extremely supportive. And my friends are very … I’ve just gotten a lot of support from more places than I anticipated."
Vernon is the owner of Vernon Research Group, a market research firm, and twice has easily won election to the City Council, defeating an incumbent in 2007 and winning re-election with 64-percent of the vote in 2011.
In both campaigns she won the endorsement of both the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (now called the Metro Economic Alliance) and the Hawkeye Labor Council.
"They knew me, they knew I’d be progressive, they know I want to build a better Iowa," Vernon said of the broad backing for her City Hall campaigns.
"One of the things we figured out is that in order to get anything done, it really helps to have business and labor talk to each other, find where they can agree and go to town on that and get to work," Vernon said.
In May 2009, she changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
"I think there are a lot of Iowans who are looking for someone who will listen to them, who is just like them, who makes up her own mind about the issues, who is somewhat in the middle," Vernon said. "A lot of Republicans feel the party has left them, and I am certainly one of those."
Five of her six-plus years on the Cedar Rapids City Council have been focused on bringing the city back from its historic flood of June 2008.
"Some say we’ve made 20 years of decisions in five years," she said. "It’s been intense. But I’ve enjoyed it, and I think we’ve gotten a lot to show for it."
Before her time on the council, Vernon served for a number of years as chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the Cedar Rapids City Planning Commission.
In her time as president of the Junior League of Cedar Rapids in the mid-1990s, Vernon led a $1.7-million campaign to build the Madge Phillips Center for homeless women and children.
Vernon on Tuesday called herself a moderate and a progressive and said she has "common sense on budgeting."
"I’m 55 years old, and I’ve spent my life getting enough education, building my family and my business and working hard on the community and the region," Vernon said. "Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or independent, I think you’re looking for someone who is going to study hard, work hard and reach across the aisle. I think you’re looking for someone who really cares, who wants to make a difference. And that’s where I am."
Vernon, a Catholic, graduated from Regis High School in Cedar Rapids and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa. The Vernon daughters are ages 23, 24 and 26.
To date, Pat Murphy, a Democrat and former Iowa House speaker from Dubuque, has said he will seek the 1st Congressional District seat, and former Democratic state Sen. Swati Dandekar of Marion last week said she was forming an exploratory committee as she considers a run.
The Republican field, so far, consists of businessmen Steve Rathje of Cedar Rapids and Rod Blum of Dubuque.
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