The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Surprising neighborhood-building legacy taking shape for Paul Pate

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Paul Pate on September 18, 2008 at 2:46 am

It was nice seeing Paul Pate last week.

Pate, the city’s last full-time mayor under its former commission form of government, turned out for the city’s open house at the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel to see what options the city’s team of consultants had come up with to protect the city against future floods.

Pate was in blue suit and tie, nicely tanned and in good cheer. He always did have a great laugh.

Talking to him was a reminder that both he and Lee Clancey, whom Pate unseated as mayor in 2001, liked a city form of government that featured a full-time mayor along with a city manager or city administrator.

The city’s Home Rule Charter Commission, though, opted for a “weak-mayor” form of government with a part-time mayor and council and full-time city manager. It is the option cities have chosen over the years, seeing it as a little longer on professional management and a little shorter on local politics.

Pate, who served as mayor from 2002 through 2005, chose not to run for the part-time post once voters decided in a referendum in 2005 to go that route. He’s back running his asphalt company.

Though not in city office, Pate actually is having a city legacy created for him in the aftermath of June’s flooding.

The City Council now is moving aggressively to bring to life a neighborhood-building initiative that Pate, though he didn’t create the idea, near single-handedly insisted on bringing to life in his last year in office in 2005.

The initiative is called HAND – Housing and Neighborhood Development. It consists of the city using city money to buy up vacant lots in a 14-block area of the Oak Hill Neighborhood. Money also is available to help provide incentives for builders and homebuyers to make the new homes “attainable” and perhaps “affordable” for those who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

One home has been built to date, but Skogman Homes this week now has said it will build the next 11. The goal is for a total of 50 new homes.

It seems an improbable legacy for Pate, a pretty conservative Republican in a universe where inventive inner-city housing initiatives often are thought to come from Democrats. Beyond that, Cedar Rapids City Hall really has not invested itself much in housing matters using city funds.

But Pate, a former state senator, former Iowa Secretary of State and one-time Republican candidate for governor, did an unexpected thing. Actively participating in the U.S. Conference of Mayors when he was mayor, he got himself named as co-chairman of a national task force on homelessness and hunger. That made him determined to take a step to implement a program in Cedar Rapids to address what he was dealing with on a national level.

To commit city funding for HAND was no easy task for Pate in 2005 in a tight-budget time among a five-member City Council members scrambling to find money for firefighters, police officers and all the rest. It was not a unanimous vote in favor of Pate’s plan.

This week, at Wednesday evening’s council meeting, council member Brian Fagan noted that the HAND idea had, to date, been an “underperforming” one. And Fagan added that another model might be worth exploring down the road in other neighborhoods. But Fagan called the Skogman plan to build 11 homes in the HAND district an “exciting” one.

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  1. I’m not sure which is worse for the city, Mayor Halloran asleep or Brian Fagan awake and meddling with things he knows nothing about just so he can tweak Pate.

    This city misses Pate and his leadership.

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