With only a few days before voters pick Davenport’s next mayor, Rita Rawson’s campaign is releasing an ad taking aim at opponent Mike Matson over a now-shuttered criminal investigation that emerged seven years ago after sensitive information leaked out of City Hall.
In the video ad, former Davenport mayors Ed Winborn and Thom Hart resurface allegations that Matson leaked confidential knowledge to local television station KWQC-TV while posing as another Council member in an attempt to derail a city-led effort to buy into the casino business in 2012. They say the findings from a resulting criminal investigation should give voters pause, calling into question Matson’s integrity and his ability to be trusted by City Hall staff and other elected officials.
In response, Matson denied the allegations and called their statements “really low” and “desperate,” saying he will keep running a positive campaign focused on what he will offer Davenport as its next mayor. He said his integrity is “above reproach,” as several Democratic Iowa Statehouse leaders have endorsed him and he has won re-election to the City Council several times since the questions first arose.
“Boy, they must be desperate,” said Matson, who represents the 7th Ward.
Neither Winborn nor Hart mentions Matson by name. But Hart accuses Matson of “ghost posting” and clearly references an investigation that hovered over the longtime alderman between 2012 and 2013. It ends with Winborn saying: “Among our two candidates for mayor, we have one that has integrity and we have one that has questionable integrity. And I think Rita (Rawson) definitely has integrity.”
In 2012, Davenport Police began investigating after an anonymous tipster sent an email to KWQC-TV encouraging its reporters to explore insider details concerning a push for the city to buy Rhythm City Casino. The deal, which Matson opposed at the time, fell through the following year, and the casino project was picked up by a private developer.
Investigators eventually traced the information leak to a Davenport School District work laptop assigned to Matson. The laptop was seized and examined, though investigators later learned that Matson had asked school district technicians to wipe the computer’s hard drive around the time the information was leaked.
Following the investigation, Scott County Attorney Mike Walton declined to take the case. He cited a potential conflict of interest and referred the matter to Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf.
Wolf later dropped the case, saying a district policy of changing its sub-IP-addresses made it difficult to determine which of the school’s computers was used. He also said at the time that witnesses came forward offering alibis on Matson’s behalf.
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The leak, sent to the station’s anonymous tip line, came from an email account suggesting it originated from former Alderman Gene Meeker. During interviews with police, Meeker denied having a role and later pointed blame at Matson. Also alleged in the investigation was that Meeker was impersonated by someone else, which is illegal under Iowa law.
Matson has repeatedly denied sending the tip. He did so again during an interview with the Times Friday, saying he was in a meeting with other people when the information was supposedly leaked, and his computer was returned to him days later. He also noted he was never called in for questioning.
A digital version of the ad featuring Winborn and Hart was posted on YouTube and shared with the Times by Rawson’s campaign before it was set to air Saturday morning. The 30-second spot was scheduled to be broadcast through the weekend and leading into Monday, said Randy Jacobs, Rawson’s campaign manager.
Winborn was Davenport’s mayor from 2006 until 2008. Hart was mayor from 1986 until 1991 and more recently was chairman of the Scott County Democratic Party.
Reached by phone late Friday afternoon, Hart said he thinks “it’s pretty clear” from the police investigation notes and earlier news reports that Matson was behind the leak. He thinks the issue is still relevant and shows a challenge for Matson to gain trust in City Hall.
“If people don’t trust your word, it’s going to be a very tough administration, I think,” Hart said.
Matson and Rawson are each vying to replace outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch next year. Klipsch decided not to seek a third term as the city’s top elected official, setting off a six-way primary fight that ended in early October with Matson taking 33% of the vote to Rawson’s 23%. Rawson, the 5th Ward’s alderwoman since 2016, narrowly outperformed third-place candidate Dan Portes, winning the second-place slot by only 10 votes.
The general election is Nov. 5.