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  • A Tale of Three Mayors

    • Posted on Jun 05, 2016
    Here's this morning's (June 5) Courier column.  I've gotten to know three mayors, one from living in Cedar Falls, (Jon Crews) another from living in Charleston, S.C. (Joe Riley) and another from recent observations and an extended lunch conversation in Waterloo.  (Quentin Hart) 

    Both Crews and Riley retired from politics in December, 2015, and Hart began his
    political career as Waterloo mayor in January, 2016.  A comparison of the three seems in order, since they share several important traits.   

    Below is a photo of me, Joe Riley, and Lonnie Stewart, a sculptor friend who was discussing the possibility of his creating a large version of the model in the photo for Charleston's African-American museum.   We were meeting in Riley's Charleston office a few years ago.   

    Jon Crews, former Cedar Falls mayor, Quentin Hart, current Waterloo mayor, and Charleston, South Carolina former Mayor Joe Riley, deserve mention in the same breath.  Crews and Riley served their cities successfully for literally decades, each leaving a positive legacy.

     If Waterloo’s major Quentin Hart continues on his current political path, he stands to make a similar enduring difference.     

     A few words about the two lifelong mayors.  Each began their terms in the nineteen seventies as young men. Crews began in ’74 when he was 24.  Riley’s began in ’75 when he was 32.  Each ended their political careers in 2015. 

     Crews won 15 two-year terms for a total of thirty years, with terms off, successfully succeeding his successors, as he put it.  Riley won 10 consecutive four-year terms, running as a Democrat in a fully Republican state. 

     Last week I was reminded of Riley’s popularity when I attended a concert in Charleston for the 40th anniversary celebration of Charleston’s two-week long Spoleto USA Arts festival. 

     Riley spoke onstage to a sold-out concert audience and received a rousing standing ovation before he started.  He seemed startled by the outpouring of affection.  

     His speech offered enthusiastic support for the renowned Spoleto festival. He detailed its beginnings in 1976, and reminded the audience of its early struggles. Insisting that Spoleto was his major contribution to Charleston’s culture, Riley revealed his passionate support for the festival that put Charleston on the map.  

     Riley fought long and hard to make that happen, marshaled support and got it done—among other major transformative projects.  

     Through it all, Riley was a trustworthy and approachable mayor.  As a visitor from Iowa, I met with him a few years ago about a possible a street marker in downtown Charleston to honor Judge Waties Waring, a white civil rights leader years before civil rights became a cause.  (See Tinsley Yarbrough’s “A Passion for Justice.”) 

     Riley fully agreed, and even went further about the need for a sculpture to honor Judge Waring.  Three years later I visited that life-sized sculpture in downtown Charleston.  He had made it happen.   

    Visionary, personable, willing to listen and get things done—that’s Joe Riley.  

     So too with Jon Crews.  At a recent lunch, he was just as open and clear about his years of paying attention to constituents, and why he sometimes didn’t, in all honesty.   
    Moreover, he and Riley share a rare trait:  Humility.  

     They both give serious credit to citizens who helped along the way, knowing that it takes a village to run a city. Small egos make great leaders.   

    Then there’s Waterloo’s newly elected mayor, Quentin Hart.   In my several hours of talking to and observing him, I observed these same qualities—openness to citizen input, clarity in decision making, and humble about his place in the scheme of things.   

     Waterloo is lucky to have him, just as Cedar Falls and Charleston were lucky to prosper under the long leadership of Jon Crews and Joe Riley.  


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  • Lunch with a Leader: Quentin Hart

    • Posted on May 09, 2016
    Second in a series of pieces for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier: "Lunch with a Leader," this one with Quentin Hart, the first African-American mayor of Waterloo, Iowa.  He's just three months into the office, and seems like a natural leader in every way, as explained in the article.  It appeared in today's Waterloo Courier--Monday, May 9.  


    “My life parallels what Waterloo went through from the 80s to now,” Mayor 
    Hart insisted during our lunch.   

    “I was lost and down in the 80s, came back from my mistakes, learned from 
    great teachers and mentors, figured out who I was, and moved ahead.”  

     That’s what happened to his beloved Waterloo, from the sharp downturn of the 80s, to the soul searching of the 90s, to the rebuilding of the city beginning in 2000 with the riverfront and downtown, to the current citywide revitalization. 
    “Capital investment for January and February is up to 24 million, where in the last two years it was only five to seven million” he said, with more than a touch of pride. 

     Pride in the city, but never a prideful ego.  He’s a humble man, readily offering gratitude for his many influences, from his parents to Walter Cunningham to Bernice Richards, to Michael Coleman, pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church. No trace of self-aggrandizement showed in anything he said or did.  

     “I can’t think of anything I’ve done completely on my own. It was always because people supported and influenced me positively along the way. I needed that.”  

     We talked during a Monday lunch, and I had heard his “State of the City” address the Friday before at the Walter Cunningham School for Excellence. That night I attended the Waterloo City Council meeting.  I’d call that a crash course in getting to know Waterloo’s first African American mayor, whom I had never met.  

     I saw a man who’s a natural fit for doing exactly what he’s doing:  Leading a major Iowa city in new directions based on cooperation and collaboration. 

     At Hart’s “State of the City” address, I noticed Cedar Falls Mayor Jim Brown wasn’t just in attendance, he was sitting on the stage with Mayor Hart.   The cities’ new mayors hadn’t met before the election. Now they’re good friends, sharing a belief in the Cedar Valley as one of the potentially most prosperous areas of Iowa.  
    That’s their determined goal and shared vision.  

     “When we work together, everything starts to happen,” Hart insists, and from what I saw, Cedar Falls’ Mayor Brown agrees completely. 

     I also noticed that Hart seems comfortable speaking at large meetings, leading complex City Council meetings, or just eating lunch offering his take on the mayor’s role in city government.  He’s focused, confident, and totally optimistic, which is infectious.  And he glows with charisma.  

     At his speech, he had the audience of school kids and citizens in the palm of his hand, listening intently to every word.   When he spoke of why we should be careful what we say about our city because “our kids are listening,” everyone nodded approval. 

     “You can’t improve a city with its own citizens bad-mouthing it.”

     At the city council meeting, I was downright flabbergasted when he warmly introduced Justin Scott, an atheist, who had requested that he give the invocation.  Scott spoke about how justice and equality have nothing to do with the supernatural, and offered his good wishes to the City Council without regard to religious preference.  Talk about ecumenical. 
    Shortly thereafter, a group of Scott’s fellow atheists gathered around Hart as he proclaimed May 5 to be a “National Day of Reason” on the same day as a  “National Prayer Day” for believers.  Equal time for all.  

     Hart seemed not only unfazed by all this, but downright comfortable and welcoming.  That level of inclusiveness was both unusual and admirable, and much appreciated by the freethinkers. This, from a man who said grace before our lunch.  

    He’s a man of faith, but he takes the U.S. Constitution seriously.  

    Hart articulated his own vision for the city at lunch. “I’m working to be not just the best Black mayor, but the best mayor of all the city.  It’s not about me—it’s about getting people working together to improve the community and solve problems.”  
    He knows that some Waterloo citizens might worry that he would favor the black community at the expense of the white citizens, “I’m working for everyone, and I’m familiar with our neighborhoods’ needs.  But it won’t happen overnight.”  

     Mayor Hart listed a series of recent initiatives:  transparency, meaning putting city meetings and records online, broadcasting meetings, rewarding citizens who offer “bridges” to connect parts of the community, undertaking serious strategic planning, appearing on a mayor’s show on local cable—and more. This mayor radiates positive energy.  

     His major challenge? “Building trust.  People have to learn to trust police, their government, and community leaders and institutions to do the right thing. We need more hope and less apathy.” 

     We didn’t get much into race relations, but he acknowledged being aware of it, and doesn’t let it interfere with his optimism.  Just then he looked out the window onto Sycamore street beside Newton’s, where we sat.  A pickup truck rolled by flying a confederate flag.  

     Yes, he knew the challenges.   

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