Cedar Rapids City Council Runoff Brings Two New Faces to the Council

By Rick Smith and Forrest Saunders, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — It's not a clean sweep for City Council incumbents.

Council incumbent Chuck Swore was defeated in his re-election bid as first-time candidates Ralph Russell and Susie Weinacht finished one and two and won the city runoff election among four candidates competing for two at-large council seats.

Swore finished fourth, Carletta Knox-Seymour, third.

"It's just a good feeling to know that there are folks who want to see me on the City Council," Russell said last night. "I don't do anything half way, and I think I can help the city. ... I'm really happy with the election outcome."

An ecstatic Weinacht said, "They believed in me."

"I'm very honored and thankful that people entrusted their vote and their confidence in me," she said. "We live in an incredible community."

A disappointed Swore said he was happy to have been a part of the last four years in which the city recovered from the Flood of 2008 and began an economic revitalization.

"My best to Ralph and Susie," Swore, 70, said. "I think they'll do a great job. It's not the end of the world (for me). I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a good reason."

Headed into Tuesday's runoff vote, Swore seemed the front-runner because he won the most votes on Nov. 5 in a field of seven candidates competing for the two at-large seats. But none of the seven in such a crowded field secured enough votes to win outright, thus, prompting Tuesday's runoff.

Incumbent Mayor Ron Corbett and incumbent council members Kris Gulick and Pat Shey won easy victories at the general election on Nov. 5 while incumbent council member Justin Shields was unopposed.

Corbett last night welcomed both "Ralph and Susie" to the council and he said neither ran campaigns critical of the council.

"They ran to be part of the team and to keep moving Cedar Rapids forward," the mayor said.

He thanked Swore for his four years of service to the city and for his two earlier years on the council in 2006 and 2007.

"Chuck had some formidable challengers," Corbett said. "Both Ralph and Susie had good organizations, raised money to get their message out and followed through to make sure voters got out today."

In Tuesday's final vote tally, Russell won 4,562 votes or 32.36 percent of the total; Weinacht, 3,662 votes or 25.98 percent; Knox-Seymour, 2,921 votes or 20.72 percent; and Swore, 2,891 votes or 20.51 percent.

Each voter could vote for two candidates to fill the two at-large seats on the ballot.

Russell, 67, is the retired former president/CEO of engineering firm HR Green Co., and Weinacht, 50, is part-time manager for RWDSU-UFCW Local 110 and part-time executive director of the Iowa PTA.

Council members serve four-year terms, but Tuesday's second place finisher, Weinacht, will serve a two-year term this time to better balance the number of council seats up for a vote during a particular election cycle. Now six are up for a vote in one election cycle and three in the next, an imbalance that will change to 5-4 starting in 2015.

One of the quirks of voting to fill two at-large seats in the same race is that supporters of some candidates vote only once so the vote for their favorite candidate isn't diluted by casting a vote for a second candidate in the same race.

According to the Linn County Auditor's Office, 7,891 people voted in Tuesday's runoff, but they only cast 14,096 votes. With each voters able to vote twice, they could have cast a total of 15,782 votes, but 1,686 or 21.3 percent of voters chose to "undervote" in an effort to help their candidate most.

Joel Miller, Linn County auditor and commissioner of elections, identified a similar election tactic after the Nov. 5 vote.

On Monday, Miller said the city's runoff process should be scrapped because too few voters participate in it.

On Nov. 5, 22.3 percent of voters voted while only 8.7 percent voted in the Tuesday election to select two of the nine Cedar Rapids council members.

In the 2009 city election, 27 percent of voters voted in November, and only 9.5 percent voted in the December runoff for one council seat that year.

"That means less than half of the people turned out that turned out in November," Miller said during Tuesday's vote. "We definitely need to do something."

Winning candidate Russell said last night he intends to focus on getting residents more involved in city government.

"So many people don't pay any attention at all," he said.

Russell won the most votes from early voters and absentee voters with 447 votes while Weinacht was next with 380. Swore had 324 and Knox-Seymour, 212.
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