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Burglars hit mayoral candidate Ron Corbett’s home; calls it unnerving; campaign secrets still safe, he says

In Ron Corbett on June 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Burglars busted into mayoral candidate Ron Corbett’s home during the daytime Wednesday, ransacked the place and made off with jewelry, money, a computer, electronics, a couple bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne.

Corbett, who was in Pennsylvania at the time with four of his five children visiting his 90-year-old grandmother, was still trying Thursday to determine with his wife, Benedicte, all that was stolen.

The 48-year-old former state lawmaker said he didn’t know if the burglary was an isolated incident or if it’s a part of an uptick in crime that’s confronting the city. He said he will ask Police Chief Greg Graham about that.

Never a burglary victim before, Corbett noted that Cedar Rapids historically has been a safe, family-friendly community with a good education system and work ethic.

“That’s really been the bedrock of our community,” he said.

It appears, he said, the burglars spent some time inside his house at 321 30th St. SE because they opened every closet and drawer. He said the burglars used his children’s backpacks to carry stolen items from the house. One backpack, partially filled, was left behind, an indication that the burglars got scared away, he said.

The burglars also threw a stack of some 50 red-colored and blue-colored “Ron Corbett for Mayor” T-shirts around one room, so they know now that they burglarized the home of a possible future mayor. Corbett said the T-shirts are intended for campaign backers to wear in Saturday’s Freedom Festival parade.

“They didn’t take any campaign secrets,” said Corbett in a stab of comic relief regarding what he said was an event that had shaken up his wife and made him and his children uneasy.

“My wife comes home and the house is all torn apart. Certainly a part of her feels violated, coming into your home, seeing things in a shambles. It really is kind of unnerving,” he said.

Corbett said he supports Police Chief Graham’s call for opening a police substation on the city’s east side and Corbett said he likes the idea of opening one on the city’s west side, too.

“Whatever we can do to get police in the neighborhoods will help,” he said.

At the same time, Corbett said he has not liked the delay in getting the proposed police substation open at 1501 First Ave. SE. He noted that the city is now hurrying to open a temporary spot in a commercial building a block away after council member Monica Vernon complained about the delay.

“You squawk a little and the city can make some things move,” he said

For now, Corbett said he needs to take care of family matters.

“I’m a victim like anybody else,” he said. “It doesn’t make me a special victim just because I’m running for office.”


Lone mayoral candidate Corbett, a Republican, gets backing of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO

In Brian Fagan, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on June 2, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Ron Corbett is still out there running for mayor all by himself, though word is that council incumbents Monica Vernon and Brian Fagan – if not others – are biding their time, waiting to enter the race.

On Tuesday, Corbett, a former Republican state legislator and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, won the endorsement of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

Scott Smith, the council’s president, said Tuesday that the council’s endorsement of Corbett was by a unanimous vote.

The council represents nearly 5,000 workers in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas.

“Ron has a great track record of building coalitions and providing leadership,” Smith said. “We are proud to endorse his candidacy for Cedar Rapids mayor.”

Smith called the trades council’s early endorsement “an unusual step” for the council. But he said the endorsement was intended to send a message that those in the union trades “are looking for a consensus candidate for mayor.” That’s Corbett, he said.

Corbett brought out dozens of union trades workers in mid-March when he spoke outside the city’s flood-damaged and all-but empty Veterans Memorial Building, which is home to City Hall. Corbett castigated the current mayor and City Council on that day, accusing them of embracing a “culture of delay” and failing to get the city’s key, flood-damaged facilities back up and functioning.

Ray Dochterman, business manager for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local #125, was there that March day, and on Tuesday, he, too, spoke on behalf of the trades council in endorsing Corbett.

“It is time to rebuild this city, and we believe Ron Corbett is the best person to take charge and do that,” Dochterman said.

Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc., on Tuesday thanked the trades council for its backing.

“Like this organization, I want to work together with community members and businesses to create jobs and find the best path forward for Cedar Rapids,” Corbett said in a published statement.

Mayoral hopeful Corbett fires a new campaign shot: Don’t let city officials use new state-granted power to build a new city hall without a citizen vote

In City Hall, Ron Corbett on May 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett keeps running for office even if no one yet has joined him.

In his latest campaign video on his campaign Website, Corbett is calling into question a change in state law, which applies to Iowa jurisdictions recovering from last year’s natural disasters and allows them to pass big bond issues to pay for public building projects without a citizen vote.

The law change was one Cedar Rapids’ lobbyist at the Iowa Legislature was instructed to pursue by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

The new law — it was approved with great final support by both houses of the legislature — does allow citizens to request a referendum on a bond proposal in a reverse referendum it they can muster signatures on petitions equal to at least 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the last presidential election. In Cedar Rapids, that would mean 13,332 signatures.

“Iowa has a longstanding tradition to allow people to vote on bond issues,” Corbett says in his campaign video.

In the video, Corbett recalls the Cedar Rapids school district’s effort to pass a bond issue some years ago, and Corbett says he, as president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, helped the district scale back its plans to “the basics” in a way that convinced voters to back the bond issue.

Corbett is aware of the upside to the law change that will allow cities like cities like Cedar Rapids, which is trying to recover from a disastrous flood, to push ahead with bond issues without a citizen vote. The city faces tens of millions of dollars in building renovations and building replacements, and, arguably, such work could be delayed for long periods if the city must seek the required 60-percent voter approval on every issue.

For example, take the city’s downtown library, which was damaged in last June’s flood beyond repair. The city’s library board has decided it would prefer to build a new library at a new downtown site farther from the river. Federal dollars will pay for much of the work, but the money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t all come in upfront. The thought is the city will need to bond for some projects to get the construction started as the FEMA money comes in. The same could apply to a host of other projects.

What Corbett singles out in his latest video, though, is what he says is the push in some quarters to build a brand new City Hall. And he fears the new change in Iowa law would allow such a thing to happen without a citizen vote.

We’ll see: Building a new city hall won’t be universally endorsed because the city’s existing City Hall, which is in the flood-damaged, now-unoccupied Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River, has a following. It will be renovated and hold something in any event.

What isn’t clear either is just want members of the City Council want to do. Council member Tom Podzimek said recently that the council has no preconceived notions as it begins a public participation process on the future of city government buildings in June. Council member Kris Gulick said he wants to see a financial analysis of retrofitting and retooling existing buildings as that discussion unfolds.

Corbett earlier has said the city doesn’t need to build a new “Taj Mahal” to house city government.

And he repeats that in his latest video: “I don’t think we need a new city hall,” he says. He says the city has plenty of existing buildings. If building a new city hall happens, though, voters should have a chance to vote on it, he says.

Vernon says her jump from Republican to Democrat has nothing to do with a possible mayoral run against Republican Corbett

In Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on May 5, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Council member and mayoral prospect Monica Vernon says her jump from the Republican to Democratic Party on Tuesday has nothing to do with her plans to run or not run for mayor.

She declined to say if she was in or out of the mayoral race.

A Republican since she first registered to vote as a teenager, Vernon, 51, says she has been thinking for “a long time” about changing political parties, “and I just changed.”

At the same time, she says that the Republican Party is different than it once was and so, she says, is she.
“And as a woman, as a person who believes that we must absolutely take action and make progress here (in Cedar Rapids), being a Democrat makes more sense to me,” she says.

She adds, “I want to be true to what I am. … I want to be somewhere that’s closest to where I am. … It’s really a tough one. But I’ve got to be true to myself.”

Vernon, a business owner in her second year of a four-year council term, says she is someone who understands both Republican and Democratic parties well and is someone who has friends in both places.

City Hall elective office is non-partisan; candidates don’t run by political party. But political parties, nonetheless, play a role behind the scenes.

When Vernon was elected in 2007 to the District 2 council seat, she received the backing of both labor and business, which she says is proof that she is a person who has a history of crossing party lines.

The only declared mayoral candidate to date is Ron Corbett, vice president of trucking firm CRST Inc. and a former Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Why did mayoral prospect Monica Vernon change from Republican Party to Democratic Party?

In Brian Fagan, Linda Langston, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on May 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm

First it was U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Now it’s Cedar Rapids council member Monica Vernon.

In recent days, Specter changed his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat as he readies to try to keep his seat in the U.S. Senate from the state of Pennsylvania. He said he couldn’t win the Republican primary there in a Republican Party that he said had moved to far to the right.

But why is Vernon — a long-time Republican with a husband, Bill, who as recently as 2008 was a member of the party’s state central committee — moving to the Democratic Party?

Vernon, who is the second year of a four-year term as District 2 council member, has been among a group of people considering a run this year for Cedar Rapids mayor, which, like other City Council seats in Iowa, is a non-partisan post.

This year’s mayoral race, though, surely will come with a partisan flavor.

To date, only Ron Corbett, a former Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, has announced that he is running for mayor.

On Monday, Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, a prominent Democrat, said Democrats were urging her to take on Corbett. She said she was considering a mayoral race, but was not yet convinced she would run.

Council member Brian Fagan is another person mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate, and Fagan is registered to vote without political party. He changed his registration to Republican so he could compete in the January 2008 presidential caucuses, and he changed it to Democratic so he could vote in the June 2008 primary, the Linn County Auditor’s Office reports.

The county office said it processed Vernon’s change of party from Republican to Democratic just today, Tuesday.

Corbett TV out with latest; calls for economic development; but are all i’s dotted, t’s crossed in video episode’s property-tax math?

In Ron Corbett on April 21, 2009 at 8:11 am

Corbett TV is back with its latest video installment.

This time, mayoral candidate Ron Corbett — —  is making the point that the city needs to do a better job of attracting new companies to town to expand the city’s tax base. A bigger tax base, with more taxpaying industries, businesses and people participating, will mean less pressure to raise taxes on current taxpayers.

We need a bigger pie, Corbett says.

We need a return to a time not so many years ago when new industries — he cities Cedar River Paper, PMX Industries, Genencor — seemed to show up in the city regularly.

Of course, you can’t have Corbett TV without a video, and it always helps to employ a backdrop to make the current point.

To date, Corbett has stood in front of the abandoned, flood-damaged Swiss Valley Farms plant near the Cedar River to lament the loss of local industry. He’s been outside of the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall indicting current city leaders for what Corbett calls “a culture of delay.” And there was the closed, flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool in another video. Why couldn’t city leaders get the pool open this season? Corbett wondered.

In the latest Corbett TV video, he’s standing down at the construction site of the new $140-million-plus federal courthouse going up now between the river and Second Street SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE.

He points out that MidAmerican Energy used to sit on the site, and when the utility was there, it paid property taxes to the city. Now, the site is in government hands and no longer will generate property taxes.
In this little example, the property-tax burden will fall harder on the rest of the residents if something isn’t done to expand the local tax base to make up for what is being lost at the courthouse site, Corbett suggests.

Corbett TV’s latest didn’t come with a blackboard to do all the higher math. The Corbett TV video was trying to make the point that economic development is important.

The blackboard, though, might have been useful to do the adding and subtracting of property taxes, taking into account MidAmerican’s move to different digs in Cedar Rapids, to a property that had been vacated in northwest Cedar Rapids by Highway Equipment Co. Highway Equipment had built a new home on the city’s southwest side and moved there.

Actually, too, private utilities are treated differently than other private entities in terms of property taxes. The taxes they pay to local jurisdictions are called franchise fees, not property taxes, Casey Drew, the city of Cedar Rapids’ finance director, explains.

It’s not lonely being the only person in mayoral race: Corbett pioneers new City Hall campaign tactic, You Tube video he calls ‘Corbett TV’

In City Hall, Ron Corbett on April 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm

For now — still seven months from the Nov. 3 election — Ron Corbett has the mayoral race all to himself.
And he’s working to make the best of it.

On Tuesday, Corbett unveiled what seems to be a first for a Cedar Rapids City Hall election: It’s his own You Tube video that he calls “Corbett TV.”

Watching Corbett TV, it’s hard to imagine You Tube videos aren’t going to become part of other local election campaigns in the months ahead as candidates try to see if they get some traction and visibility for free.

Corbett says he’d like to have a string of videos on his campaign Website,, for voters to take a look when they sit down to make a decision on whom to vote for next fall.

In two videos released on Tuesday, Corbett continues his assault on what he calls “the culture of delay” at City Hall.

This time, the 48-year-old vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc. is standing in front of the flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool and lamenting that it will not open this summer after all. In a second video, he stands in front of the damaged Tree of Five Seasons and says too little is being done to put the city back together again.

In regard to the Ellis pool, the City Council in recent months had urged city staff to hustle with repairs to the pool so it could open this summer. The council thought opening the pool would have a symbolic benefit and would show that the city is getting back on its feet. A week ago, though, the council learned that repairs could not be made in time for this season.

In his video, Corbett says:

“This pool will be closed for 2009 because of the indecision and the culture of delay that is within or City Council. They have let the homeowners down of this community, they have let the businesses down of this community, they have let the veterans down in this community, and now they’re letting down the children of this community.”

Corbett said he will get the pool open in 2010 if he’s elected mayor.

Mayoral prospect Hinzman nudges toward a decision to take on Corbett and, perhaps, others

In Gary Hinzman, Ron Corbett on March 21, 2009 at 11:55 am

Gary Hinzman, the director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and a former Cedar Rapids police chief, first surfaced publicly as a possible mayoral candidate, thanks to Ron Corbett, who now has announced his candidacy for the job.

In January, Corbett or Corbett backers conducted a phone survey to see which possible candidates might best him in a run for mayor. The five names in the survey were those of Corbett, Scott Olson, a local Realtor who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2005, council members Brian Fagan and Monica Vernon, and Hinzman.

Last week, Hinzman took a step closer to showing his cards when his new Web site appeared — “Gary Hinzman for Mayor, A Voice for All People, A Force for Positive Change.” He said the Web site is “under construction.”

By week’s end, Hinzman had issued a statement on “ethics” to his 250 employees, alerting them to his possible mayoral run and to his commitment, should he run, to following state rules required of a public employee running for public elective office.

In short, such a run for mayor, he tells his employees, will require him to separate any political activities from the official business of correctional services department.

The rule, he tells them, is “simple:” “Government time, resources or equipment cannot be used for political purposes. This includes our e-mail system.”

He adds that no employee is expected to do anything in the way of offering support or mouthing political comments to him.

And he notes that he has not made any final decision to run for mayor.

“This is becoming more likely,” he says of a run for mayor. “But I have not yet made an announcement and I am still considering some key factors.”

Incumbent Mayor Kay Halloran has said she will make a decision about seeking reelection later this spring.

Corbett lambasts ‘culture of delay’; calls for fix of City Hall; labor, vets turn out; Councilman Shey there, too; calls Corbett ‘status quo’

In City Hall, Floods, Ron Corbett on March 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett on Thursday morning stood outside the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall and called on city government to repair the building and return to it.

In so doing, Corbett said the city would honor the veterans for whom the building stands as a memorial and it would put local workers back to work.

Nearly 100 labor union members and veterans stood to listen to Corbett speak, but surprisingly, no one from the local electronic media was on hand to record the event.

Turns out, the Linn County Board of Supervisors had summoned the media to the flood-damaged federal courthouse just down the street, a building that the supervisors have their eyes on for the possible future location of the county’s juvenile court operation.

In any event, Corbett had props, TV cameras or no TV cameras.

He held up one of the familiar “We’re Back” signs that have gone outside many buildings that were damaged by the June 2008 flood and are now open and back to life. Only Corbett’s sign had a circle with a line through it, signifying that the Veterans Memorial Building is not back on its feet. He then ripped the circle off so the sign said, “We’re Back.”

“This is why we need a new game plan for Cedar Rapids, a game plan that shows leadership and says, “We’re back.”

Just 10 days ago, Corbett –- vice president at trucking firm CRST and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and former speak of the Iowa House of Representatives -– attracted every media outlet when he formally kicked off his campaign for mayor.

He spoke without nearly all of them on Thursday.

In his remarks, Corbett took exception with the City Council’s plans for a six-to-nine month study focused on the prospect of building a new government building to house city government and perhaps “co-locate” other jurisdiction’s offices in the new building or at the same site.

“Does the city really want to build a new Taj Mahal dedicated to government?” Corbett asked. “The least expensive plan is to rebuild and move many of the functions of city government back into the Veterans Memorial Building.”

Of course, what most know as City Hall is the Veterans Memorial Building, which was built in the 1920s to honor veterans even as it became home to City Hall.

Corbett said placing City Hall on an island in the middle of the Cedar River made perfect sense in the 1920s and keeping it there makes sense today.

“Many years ago this site was chosen for city government because it was a neutral site between the communities of Cedar Rapids and Kingston,” he said. “That decision brought people together and still does today. This memorial and home to city government has served us well. It is time to reach back to that same unifying spirit.”

Corbett said the current City Hall administration has been given the approval to spend $24 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief money to bring the Veterans Memorial Building back to life. Instead, he said, city leaders have set the matter aside to spend many, many more months exploring the idea of building a new facility somewhere else.

At the end of the day, the city must restore the Veterans Memorial Building in any event, he said, and he said the city should do it out of respect for veterans and to get people in down economy back to work.

“The culture of delay is hurting everyone,” Corbett said. “It is time to get on with our lives.

“We have 7,900 people in this county unemployed. We have laborers in the construction trades that stand ready to work. Unfortunately, we have a City Council stuck in a culture of delay. … We are losing an entire construction season. The delays have to stop.”

Ray Dochterman, business manager of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, said his appearance at Corbett’s event on Thursday was not yet an official endorsement of Corbett for mayor. But he said he invited 50 members of his union to come out and listen to Corbett, and 50 members showed up.
Dochterman liked that Corbett was talking about turning federal dollars into jobs.

“You know we’re a little short of jobs right now,” he said.

Scott Smith, president of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council, was on hand Thursday, too, to hear Corbett.

“He’s got some good ideas, and I think he’s looking to take charge and get work going here that needs to be done,” Smith said. “It’s been nine months since the flood, and there’s not a whole lot of progress.”

George Hammond, a long-time member of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission, said veterans just want the city to use the federal money to bring the building back to life whether city government returns to it or not.

“All we want is the building back,” Hammond said.

Standing on the edge of the crowd was City Council member Pat Shey.

Later, after the Corbett speech, Shey said he was “disappointed” with Corbett what Corbett had to say. He called it advocacy for the “status quo.”

Shey said the council is still negotiating with FEMA over the amount of damage to the building even as the city begins a public participation process to help figure out what is the best future use for City Hall.

“I cannot recall any discussion about building a Taj Mahal,” Shey said. In fact, he said no one has advocated building a “new” structure for city hall.