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Cedar Rapids mayor's race heads to a runoff between Tiffany O'Donnell and Amara Andrews

cedar rapids
Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance
Cedar Rapids mayoral candidates Tiffany O'Donnell and Amara Andrews will face off in a runoff election slated for Nov. 30. The city's incumbent mayor, Brad Hart, fell short of qualifying for the runoff by a mere 24 votes, according to unofficial results.

The Cedar Rapids mayor’s race is headed to a runoff between former television journalist Tiffany O’Donnell and businesswoman Amara Andrews. The city’s incumbent mayor, Brad Hart, fell short of qualifying for the runoff by a mere 24 votes, according to unofficial results. Because none of the four candidates for won a majority, the top two vote-getters will face off again in a runoff election slated for Nov. 30.

After a turbulent year in which the city was racked by the coronavirus pandemic and devastated by the August 10, 2020 derecho, Cedar Rapids voters are apparently ready for a change in leadership at City Hall.

According to unofficial results, O’Donnell garnered 10,991 votes, Andrews received 7,332 and incumbent Mayor Brad Hart got 7,308. The fourth candidate, Myra Colby Bradwell, a Quaker Oats employee formerly known as Gregory Hughes, netted 411 votes, more than enough to make a difference in which candidates qualified for the runoff.

O'Donnell pushes for infrastructure investments, disaster recovery

O’Donnell, a former anchor for KGAN who now heads the leadership organization Women Lead Change, ran on pledges to improve city infrastructure, speed up derecho recovery and flood protection efforts, and work with businesses to attract and retain workers and families who will put down roots in the city.

O’Donnell, a registered Republican, has sought to run on what she sees as nonpartisan, pocketbook issues like infrastructure and economic development, as well as investing in quality of life in the city. She says Cedar Rapids has to find a way to keep young people in the community.

“My friends’ kids are leaving and they’re not coming back. And my friends, their parents, are following them. To bigger cities,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve got to stop that. The longer we sit on our heels…the damage is exponential.”

Andrews would make history, pledges to "put people first"

Andrews hopes to make history as the city’s first Black mayor. She is an executive at TrueNorth and vice president of the board of the Advocates for Social Justice, which led Black Lives Matter marches and rallies during the racial justice movement of 2020 and successfully pushed the city to adopt a citizen review board to monitor police misconduct.

Andrews, a registered Democrat, ran as a progressive and pledged to help residents continue to recover from the pandemic and economic downturn, to make city government and services more transparent and accessible, while empowering underserved communities and celebrating the city’s diversity.

“My vision for Cedar Rapids is that we put people first. That we are making workers and small businesses and nonprofits a priority,” Andrews said. “Most people think that everyone has recovered [from the derecho] and that is not in fact the case. So there are a lot of people still struggling and they want a mayor that is going to consider them and listen to their voices and help them out.”

Briana Smallwood, a small business owner and Andrews supporter, said the prospect of the city having a Black mayor would be transformational. As a person of color and a mom, Smallwood said seeing Andrews elected would reshape what’s possible for her own daughters.

“It’s one of the big reasons why I have so much respect for what Amara is doing right now, just because she’s literally changing the narrative for the way that my children perceive life and what they’re…capable of,” Smallwood said. “It’s huge.”

Partisan politics taking hold in an ostensibly nonpartisan race

Andrews leaned into her partisan identity in this ostensibly nonpartisan race, seeking to link O’Donnell to Gov. Kim Reynolds and Congresswoman Ashley Hinson, both Republicans who have aligned themselves with former President Donald Trump.

O’Donnell and Hart both pushed back against what they say are efforts to infuse partisan politics into the contest.

Media reports have also detailed Andrews and her husband’s ongoing legal issues related to disputes over payments for a home the family purchased in Illinois. Andrews’ wages have been garnished to pay back funds owed to the homebuilder. According to the Gazette, the Andrews also failed to pay federal taxes $50,000 in federal income taxes from 2010 to 2012.

Andrews’ campaign has also been subject to an ethics complaint by an O’Donnell supporter, over mailers that were paid for with funds from the campaign but not clearly identified as such.

Hart defends derecho response, which was a key factor for some voters

Hart, an attorney who was first elected in 2017 as a political newcomer, had faced criticism from community members and other candidates for his handling of the city’s response to the powerful windstorm, which was comparable to a Category 4 Hurricane and came with almost no notice.

An outside review of the city’s derecho response found that there is “a need to inform all employees, elected officials, and all external stakeholders” of the appropriate way to request outside resources, including from the National Guard.

Hart continues to face a perception from some residents that he should’ve been more present during the aftermath of the storm, a criticism he has pushed back on.

Speaking to IPR Tuesday night, Hart defended his and the city’s derecho response, applauding city staff for their efforts in the aftermath.

“There’s no way any kind of response could’ve been perfect. But the city’ response, this community’s response was remarkable in so many ways,” Hart said.

Melanie Abu-Nameh, a small business owner who voted for O’Donnell said that Hart’s handling of the derecho response factored heavily into her decision.

“For me it was the lack of presence after derecho that really kind of sealed the deal for me,” Abu-Nameh said. “That’s the major thing.”

Before the final results were released Tuesday, Hart said if he was not reelected, he would work to ensure a smooth transition for the next mayor.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter