‘Experience matters’: Alderman Mike Matson is running for mayor on his City Hall experience, vision for a safer Davenport
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‘Experience matters’: Alderman Mike Matson is running for mayor on his City Hall experience, vision for a safer Davenport

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As he makes his case to become Davenport’s next mayor, Alderman Mike Matson is calling for voters to trust his long record as an elected member of City Hall.

A councilman since 2008, Matson is the body’s second-longest-serving member. During that time, the city has seen transformational changes to its downtown thanks in part to direction from council and staff along with heavy private investment and insight from area business groups.

Matson is also counting his experience as a public school teacher and retired Army veteran among his qualifications for the office, saying he knows how to lead and is the best person to continue building on existing momentum.

“There’s no learning curve with me,” Matson, 7th Ward, said in his closing remarks during a recent candidate forum held in St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center. “I have a personal relationship with many people. I look forward to a positive campaign and continuing the great things that are happening in Davenport. A vote for me ensures these things will keep happening. Experience matters.”

Six candidates, including Matson, hope to replace outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch, who decided last December not to seek a third term in office. Matson’s five political opponents offer voters a variety of ideas about how the city should progress over at least the next two years.

The upcoming primary election for Davenport municipal candidates is Tuesday. The top two performers from that contest will advance to a runoff Nov. 5.

Davenport city government operates under a weak-mayor system. Top paid staff are in charge of carrying out the day-to-day needs of delivering city services to constituents and are the chief informers and drafters of policy proposals that go before the City Council.

The mayor rarely acts directly on policy. But the mayor does serve as the face of the city and will be called upon to offer a broader vision for addressing issues of concern to taxpayers, including fixing the streets and shielding the riverfront from seasonal flooding that is expected to become fiercer in the years to come.

‘A lot of buy-in’

Since announcing his campaign in early February, Matson has pointed to public safety as his No. 1 issue.

He’s touted recent investments in the police department’s expanded technologies and structure, including a shell casing analysis tool for tracking firearms used in local crimes and the creation of a special police unit focused on guns.

And Matson is also advocating for getting the conceptual Juvenile Assessment Center to take form. That facility, which has been a top initiative forwarded by Klipsch over the past year, uses a restorative justice model that aims to connect kids with more social service providers.

“We got a lot of buy-in right now,” Matson said of the proposed JAC during a recent meeting with the Quad-City Times Editorial board, adding: “But if we keep just talking, if we just keep letting it wane a little bit, I don’t know that we’re going to be having people support it as much as we are right now.

“Kids make knucklehead decisions, as I did when I was young,” he added. “First offenders, is jail the place for them? I don’t think so.”

When it comes to city streets, the condition of which has long been a major issue for residents, Matson says “of course they need to be improved” but notes the city has invested millions over the last decade, saying bigger investments will require innovative thinking.

And on flood protection, he thinks the answer is definitely not a permanent floodwall and wants to see more options presented. But he contends the city has also learned from the disastrous Flood of 2019 that submerged parts of lower downtown for weeks and is better prepared for future floods.

On developing the region’s workforce, Matson wants to see growth of the local union apprenticeship programs (several area organized labor unions have endorsed Matson) and expanded curriculum Scott Community College’s downtown campus.

Other things on the horizon, he said, include the future of the North Park Mall, which has seen declining business traffic over the years, following an upcoming study of the Kimberly Road corridor. Overall, he says the city needs to grow and increase its revenue moving forward, but also keep close attention to the way taxpayer dollars are spent.

'I will come to you'

Matson was born in Iowa City. He was adopted as a baby and brought back Davenport, where he spent his childhood. He grew up knowing that he was adopted, and later learned that his birth parents were also from Davenport and had biological family living blocks away from his childhood home. He even unknowingly played against his biological brother in competitive sports while in high school.

Matson signed up to join the U.S. Army during his senior year at Davenport Assumption High School. His career took him all over the world, including Central America and the Middle East. He met his wife, Trish Matson, in Davenport while he was still enlisted and she was attending St. Ambrose University.

After more than 20 years with the Army, Matson retired with the rank of sergeant major. Like most military families, the Matsons moved around quite a bit. They lived in Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina. He and his wife — also a teacher — wanted to find a more stable place to raise their children. With family still living in the Quad-Cities, Davenport was an attractive choice.

In 2003, a job with Davenport Central High School opened up as the school was launching its Army Junior ROTC program, which Matson now instructs along with one other person. He says the program has been highly successful over the years teaching area high school kids leadership, problem-solving, discipline and other necessary skills to prepare them for adulthood.

City politics was not a lifelong goal of Matson’s. The thought of running for office had not occurred to him until he was encouraged by neighbors to run for ward alderman, he said, because some issues were not being addressed. Accomplishments he is most proud of during that time include involvement with keeping Kraft-Heinz jobs in the city, helping prevent an earlier initiative for the city to buy the Rhythm City Casino and working to resolve issues specific to his district.

As he seeks the mayor’s office, Matson draws a direct comparison to his military service and time in City Hall.

Being a retired sergeant major who rose up through the ranks, he said, offered him increasing responsibility overseeing more and more people over time. At the height of his military career, Matson says he oversaw hundreds of enlisted women and men.

Like his rank in the Army, his position as ward alderman, in Matson’s view, has primarily meant looking after the people he represents. And if elected as the mayor, Matson says he intends to be out in Davenport speaking with regular folks and addressing their concerns. 

“I pledge that I will do the same thing I’ve done with my constituents as a ward person,” Matson said. “I will come to you.”

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