Moline's first woman mayor, blah, blah, blah.
Though still meaningful in ways, these gender milestones are sooo 1972 (the year Kathy Kirschbaum became the first woman mayor of Davenport).
Moline mayor-elect Stephanie Acri has bigger fish to fry than to carry a tired torch for women's rights. And I only say it's tired, because women have been serving on Moline's council for several decades. The mayor thing is different in that it carries considerable leadership potential, but Acri has made a career out of inserting herself in leadership roles traditionally reserved for men.
She took some time with me Wednesday at a downtown coffee house to talk about her upcoming term and grab a bite to eat ("to keep my energy up") the day after handily conquering incumbent Mayor Scott Raes at the polls. The more impressive feat was her hands-down win in the municipal primary, where she was forced to run as a write-in candidate.
Write-ins typically do not fare well, because it's too challenging to get the word out, but Acri prevailed, big time.
She politely categorized the upset as voters "expressing frustration" over Raes' unfortunate missteps (my words) in challenging Acri and others' candidacy in a nit-picky technicality over numbering pages on nomination papers. Even if the move hadn't backfired, making many Moliners feel cheated out of a choice, Acri would have been a strong contender.
First, the gender thing: "I have always been in a man's world, because I'm an engineer, and I own a machine shop," she said, referring to Rock Island-based Evans Premium Manufacturing, which she acquired in 2004. "That said, I have an 18-year-old daughter, and it's frankly a little disappointing to me that I am the first woman."
Also mildly disappointing was Raes' style of governance, which Acri found dramatically different from the mayor who first appointed her to the council six years ago, Don Welvaert. After serving with him for two years, she served four years as at-large alderman with Raes in the mayor's office.
When pressed to compare the leadership style, Acri said she will be more Welvaert than Raes. She used this example: Welvaert was heavily involved with aldermen, frequently calling them into one-on-one meetings to make sure they were fully informed about city matters. In four years with Raes, she said, she never got a phone call from the mayor and could recall only one email.
"We see the mayoral role differently, and we see the council role differently," she said. "I think I'm more proactive about reaching a goal. I'm aligned with the direction the city's going. I just want to get there quicker."
She also wants to get there smarter, pointing to efforts under way to contemplate the impact of the new Interstate 74 bridge, for example.
"I think we're doing it right, and I want to make sure we continue to do it right," she said. "We're studying what new revenue will result, such as hotel/motel taxes, and how we should best invest that."
Acri also wants to make a harder push on the city's boundaries and annex property south of the airport. Moline officials have long had their sights set on southward growth, but it hasn't materialized. When it does, the mayor-elect said, annexation could have a big impact.
"I'll use Trader Joe's as an example," she said (I'm listening). "They require certain things -- a certain number of rooftops and a certain average household income. We can do more to get there."
But something else has to happen first. Moline City Hall currently has a couple of hugely important vacancies. The city clerk has for months been on unpaid leave, which has resulted in some ugly legal wranglings. More importantly, the council is working on a replacement for City Administrator Lew Steinbrecher, who announced at a November council meeting that he was retiring and, to prove he wasn't kidding, left the job the next day.
"It's absolutely the most important thing this council will do," Acri said of finding a new administrator. "We'll do it well."
The attributes she's most interested in for the job are the ability to communicate well and to lead. As a former board member for Trinity Medical Center (UnityPoint) and the Chamber, Acri has been involved in the past in hiring CEOs.
"You can change knowledge base, but you can't change personality," she said. "I think it's important to embrace a difference of opinion. Brainstorming different ideas can be so productive."
And speaking of productive, where is someone with a demanding full-time job and membership on various boards going to find the time to serve as mayor of a city of 43,000 people?
"I've cleaned up my schedule, have a lot of flexibility at work, and my personal life is changing, too," she said, noting that she soon will be an empty nester as her youngest of three children heads for college. "I'm not a super great politician, so I'm not always comfortable with every role, but I am good at communicating, listening and collaborating."
And she has six years on the council behind her. In those half-dozen years, Moline has seen some fat times. The downtown is the most vibrant it's been since the '70s, SouthPark Mall finally is coming around to this century, passenger rail is on its way, along with new hotels and the John Deere Expressway expansion.
Asked whether she takes any credit for the progress, Acri laughed through an instant "no" response.
"Those foundations were laid years ago," she said. "None of us can take credit for it. That's Moline's accomplishment, not an individual's."
Hmm. A "super great politician" always takes credit. For everything.
So, yeah, we'll take her.