Davenport mayoral candidate Dan Portes thinks he’s been labeled the business guy. But he says he’s much more than that and has long worked behind the scenes to help build up the community.
His first and only elected position was with the Davenport School Board in the early 2000s. Other initiatives he led or took part in over the years include the passage of a local option sales tax to pay for rebuilding Davenport public schools, merging a few of independent business groups into DavenportOne (which later became part of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce) and the multi-million dollar River Renaissance downtown revitalization project.
He is a member of Scott County’s planning and zoning board. And he sat on the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce board for 16 years and served on the Riverboat Development Authority board.
“I am used to working with lots of people to get things done,” Portes said recently.
Now, Portes is one of six candidates seeking to replace outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch, who is not running for reelection. His five rivals bring a variety of professional and political experience to the table, and who the next mayor will be remains an open question in an upcoming municipal election where the high end of predicted voter turnout is around 20%.
Voters will significantly trim the candidate field in less than one week. The primary election is Tuesday, and the top two vote-getters will advance to a runoff Nov. 5.
Davenport government operates under a weak-mayor system. Day-to-day administrative duties related to delivering city services are carried out by top paid staff. Performance review and oversight is handled by the entire city council, and the mayor rarely acts directly on policy proposals that come to City Hall.
But Davenport’s next mayor will be expected to offer a path forward on several emerging and longstanding local issues. Serving as the face of the city, the next mayor will likely weigh in on pressing concerns like fixing streets and protecting the riverfront from seasonal floods.
In Portes’ view, being mayor is about forming and helping carry out a grand vision. And as the leader of a business focused on talent management, he contends his skillset matches what the next mayor should do: establish a vision, listen to stakeholders, collaborate with community partners, lay out expectations of city administration and hold city staff accountable.
“Bottom line is, I know I can make a difference,” Portes said during a recent interview with the Quad City Times Editorial Board. “And it is an absolutely perfect role for me as a person.”
‘A big idea guy’
Portes is the CEO and founder of Management Resource Group. But along the campaign trail, he’s sought to portray himself as more than just the business guy.
Portes hails from Oak Park, Illinois, a suburban community known for its architecture and historic landmarks bordering Chicago’s West Side. Notable folks with Oak Park ties include famed author Ernest Hemingway, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and actress Betty White.
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Entrepreneurship is rooted in Portes’ bloodline. His grandfather started a drug and liquor store business in the Chicago area, a torch later passed to Portes. But Portes inherited what he described as a “lousy life” that left him with little free time, and he and his wife, Judy Shawver, ultimately decided to move to Davenport and start fresh.
So for the past 35 years, Davenport has been Portes’ home. Portes says he was unsure what he would do when he first arrived but found work as a recruiter and later founded his business in 1989. Shawver, a Davenport native, is an attorney specializing in real estate law and partnered with her father to form Shawver & Shawver law firm. The elder Shawver died last year.
Shawver was also a member of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission until she was ousted by Klipsch in April along with three others. That decision has received high public scrutiny and is under review in Scott County District Court. Portes disagrees with the action and wants to see a better relationship between the city and commission but ultimately said he is “not running against Klipsch” in this election.
Together, Shawver and Portes have three adult children. All have married and pursued professional careers outside of the Quad-Cities, two in California and one in Texas. Now Portes and Shawver enjoy traveling. Recent destinations have included Italy, Spain and Seattle.
Portes considers himself different in several ways with the approach and leadership he would bring to City Hall if elected. He calls himself “a big idea guy” who’ll be up front and transparent with the community, saying there are several ways the city can improve its methods of communicating with residents. For some, he said, maybe he’s a little “too direct.”
“That’s my Chicago background,” he said. “You don’t have to guess where I’m coming from.”
A focus on public safety, economic growth
Portes points to public safety as priority one. Instead of making big investments in policing, though, Portes wants more done to prevent crime in the first place.
That means a collaborative effort that involves the police, local faith leaders, nonprofits, teachers, social workers and the business community all “taking a piece of it to solve it,” he said. He’s compared the approach to an ongoing initiative led by Klipsch to place the patchwork of area social service agencies under one roof.
Other major issues facing the city, Portes said, include its stagnant population, slow comparable growth to other areas, shortcomings in public education, workforce gaps and city infrastructure needs.
“If you’re around me long enough you know that I’m a big idea guy,” Portes said. “And I think that we’re stuck in the mud as a region.”
One of Portes' big ideas would involve rallying local governments to enact a so-called metro tax. Money generated could help remove barriers that exist for people who want to live and work here by bolstering vocational programs and affordable housing, he said.
Portes also wants the city to consult with experts to find a more workable solution for flooding that can be vetted by the community. There were misfires from top city officials – namely City Administrator Corri Spiegel – that left a bad taste in the mouths of many around the community, he said, and more needs to happen under the next mayor’s leadership.
"The days of doing nothing based on everything that we know I think are over,” he said. “But again all I can do is bring in experts and give us the options to do something. … We only have one downtown and I want to protect it.”