Cedar Rapids Mayor Corbett to Run for a Second Term

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Mayor Ron Corbett made it official on Monday: He's running for a second four-year term as Cedar Rapids' mayor.

Corbett's announcement came as no surprise: For months, he has he has said he almost surely would seek reelection.

Another four years as mayor, he said, will allow him to continue to push an agenda of economic growth for the city even as the city completes its work on flood recovery.

In making a case for reelection, he pointed out that the city's jobless rate is now at 5.1 percent, the lowest since the national recession hit prior to the start of his mayoral term in January 2010. He said local home values are up, the city's population is climbing and significant private investment is now following the the public investment that has come with the city's recovery from the June 2008 flood disaster.

In the latter regard, he ticked off a long list of private investment projects that have taken place in the last couple of years or are now in the works, the new Intermec and Raining Rose facilities and the $90-million plan for Westdale Mall among them. The new $100-million casino, which voters overwhelmingly approved in March, will put vacant flood-hit land back on the city's tax rolls if approved by the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission, he said.

"I think four years ago I set out to run for mayor and one of my goals was to make decisions to move our city forward," he said. " And I think we're starting to see the positive results of those decisions. In the big picture, I think Cedar Rapids is on the right track."

Corbett said not all of his decisions or those of the City Council have been popular with everyone, but he said it couldn't have been otherwise.

"If you try to please everybody, you just won't get anything done," he said. "But I think I've been fair-minded. I listened to all the different sides of the issue. But in the end, you have to make a decision. And sometimes you have be tough to get things done. ... But we just didn't have the luxury to sit back and hope things worked out. We really needed to get in there, grab the reins and move our community forward."

One focal point of criticism has been the decision by City Hall to buy the failing downtown hotel, close it along with arena attached to it and renovate them while building a new convention center next door. The DoubleTree by Hilton at the U.S. Cellular Center is slated to open on June 1.

"The hotel and convention center have probably received the most criticism (of the city projects)," the mayor said. "But I think the public is going to be pleased and proud to have this upgraded facility."

Corbett said he wants to help guide the project beyond the ribbon-cutting stage to make sure they become successful operations.

City Council member Scott Olson, who narrowly lost the race for mayor against Kay Halloran in 2005 and then was elected to the District 4 council seat in 2011, on Monday said he's been pleased with his working relationship with Corbett and he's glad to hear Corbett is seeking reelection. He said it's a good time for Cedar Rapids to maintain consistency in its leadership.

"We've not always agreed." Olson said of his relationship with Corbett. " But I think there are a lot of great things happening in the city, and I think it's great to keep up the momentum."

At the same time, City Council member Kris Gulick, one of three council members still on the council since it turned into a part-time one in 2006, on Monday said he agrees with Corbett's assessment that the city is seeing positive economic growth and its economic prospects look good. Gulick, though, said he'll leave it up to the voters on who they want for mayor.

At-large council member Chuck Swore said Monday he'd be "terribly disappointed" if Corbett wasn't seeking reelection.

"I think Ron brings some great abilities and qualities to the office of mayor, and I've worked with a lot of them (previous mayors)," Swore said. He said Corbett's "political savvy" has been particularly helpful as the city has dealt with the state and federal governments.

"He's not perfect, but no human being is," said at-large council member Don Karr. "But I think he's a great ambassador for the city. When he is out meeting people and representing our city, he's really, really good at it. He creates a good first image of our community."

In November 2009, Corbett easily won election as mayor after campaigning that City Hall had come to embrace a "culture of delay" at a time when he said the city needed to accelerate its flood-recovery work.

At the time he took office in 2010, the city had not made one property buyout as part of the city's flood recovery, he said on Monday. Now, after some 1,400 property buyouts, the city is finishing up the program, he said.

Corbett said his past experience in the Iowa Legislature, where he rose to be Speaker of the House, and his tenure as president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (now the Metro Economic Alliance), have helped him lobby both the Iowa Legislature and the federal government as the city has sought funds for flood recovery and flood protection.

Among the most significant victories, he said, was the 2013 decision by the Iowa Legislature to set up a state fund for flood protection projects using a funding mechanism designed in large part by Cedar Rapids city officials. The fund allows cities to compete for the state money if they have local matching dollars. The state fund, Corbett said, will help the city eventually complete its proposed flood protection system on both sides of the Cedar River.

"It's just going to be a continual slog for federal and state dollars to fund flood protection," the mayor said. "But we're making steps at both the federal and state level."

He pointed to other major projects that have transformed the city like Interstate 380 and the modernization and expansion of the Eastern Iowa Airport. Both took years to fund, he said.

"But they're economic assets that people wouldn't think of us not having," the mayor said. "I kind of see flood protection in that light."

At 52, Corbett is the youngest of the nine members of the City Council. He is married with five children and works on special projects for CRST Inc.
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