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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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  • The Contradictory Nature of Conservatism

    • Posted on May 05, 2016
    I wrote this some eleven years ago, and evidently scrapped it; don't think it was published at the time.  Re-reading it now, it seems to hold up well, and as we witness the utter collapse of conservatism under the guidance of Donald Trump, it rings true.   

    Conservatives want smaller government, but still expect to be protected and defended by a strong standing army/air force/navy/marines/coast guard.  

    They also know that the federal government helps protect the food supply, and has a hand in detecting and preventing deadly epidemics.  Oh yes, they believe that upholding public morality is important, so regulating the media does have a role.  

     And they appreciate quality state education, though they might like to change it to fit their religious beliefs more than a secular government would allow.  They know how expensive private schools can be, so none call for national privatization of public schools.  

     They’d like to be able to drive or fly safely to any destination in the country safely and relatively cheaply, and that requires good roads as well as national oversight of the airlines, particularly when it comes to safety.  

    Oh yes, there’s social security, meaning some kind of assurance that old age doesn’t mean penury.  And Medicaid, which keeps medication costs from sending us all to the poorhouse. 

     All government programs, all costly, all to be continued.  So conservatives want smaller government, but no fewer services.  Ask a conservative what they would get rid of to cut government spending, and you end with a very short list. We’d still have a military, still government standards for food safety and water quality. We’d still have state schools both for grades 1-12, and they must know that our public universities remain the envy of the world.  

    As is the scientific research done at them, much of it funded by the federal government.  Because Americans have gotten so used to government providing so many critical services, from education to safe food to a large military, conservatives don’t seem to know how much they get from it.

     Like air to humans and water to fish, government is everywhere, so it’s taken for granted. In fact, here’s the dirty little secret behind conservatives’ anti-government rants:  they’re actually raving liberals by standards of just a few years ago. Few 1950s conservatives would have dreamed of the need for a pervasive and strong government in a globally-oriented world economy, not to mention a terrorist-threatened world.  

     Except for hot-button social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and prayer in schools, today’s conservatives would seem rabidly liberal to 1950s conservatives,
    So though these conservatives can’t have a much smaller government, they yearn for it like their recent ancestors yearned for separation of the races, women keeping their place in the home, and a white-male dominated world.  

    We’ve moved beyond those too, thanks to liberal reforms, all of which conservatives fought--and lost. 

     Do any contemporary conservatives want women to stay out of the workplace? Would they now argue for segregation, as they once did so fervently?  Would they insist that blacks and whites not marry, as they once railed against “miscegenation” (interracial marriages) with as much fervor as they now outlaw gay marriages? 

     Of course not.  Such conservatives have long disappeared; we’ll all liberals now, no matter how much they might protest to the contrary.  That might explain why they’re so bitter and angry; except for a few outbuildings, they’ve lost the whole farm.     

     Of course conservatives still walk among us, but they mostly rant about secularism, about issues that they see threatening their beliefs, and about those demon liberals who seem to oppose such beliefs. 

     The major difference between liberals and conservatives these days?  Conservatives tend to base their arguments on black-and-white distinctions and demonizing the opposition, while liberals see complexities, gray areas, and mostly avoid name-calling and button-pushing, Al Franken excepted for his book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar.”   

     In a culture dominated by religion and the visual media, emotional demonizing will trump reason and facts every time.  

     Conservatives even admit this approach as a strategy.  In a review of Richard Viguerie and Richard Frankes’ book “America’s Right Turn,” conservative reviewer Diana Feygin points out that  “While conservatives have basically been able to say, 'This is good. This is evil. There is no in between . . .liberals have been more hesitant to identify the good and "vilify the bad" in such stark terms.  
    Shades of “evil empire” and “axis of evil,” by Presidents Reagan and GW Bush, not to mention the ugly ranting of the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs of the nasty-wing conservatives.  

     Reviewer Fegin even admits that this all-pervasive and effective conservative strategy could bring the downfall of conservatives.  She ends her review with this: “ a reliance on muckraking to shame the 'bad guys' creates risks of its own. In the end, too much "black and white" victim rhetoric could bring to a premature defeat the movement Viguerie and Franke worked so painstakingly to establish.” 

     Given the fact that most of the liberal causes of a few years ago have already occurred, conservatives have nowhere to go but down and out.  

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