As he challenges a sitting councilwoman to become the next representative of a district that includes Davenport’s growing downtown, Philip Armer has promised to fight for the businesses and residents of his neighborhood.
But fighting of another kind landed Armer in trouble with local police on both sides of the Mississippi River in past years, a Quad-City Times review has found. Armer was cited, arrested or placed on supervised jail release for at least nine violent offenses around local taverns and drinking spots between 1999 and 2012. Those allegations ranged from spitting on people to provoking fights to punching men in the face.
But Armer says he has grown as a person and learned from mistakes he made as a younger man. And he said any past fights resulted from situations that he no longer places himself in today.
“All that stuff was a long time ago,” Armer, 40, said during an interview with the Quad-City Times. “And I made some mistakes, I own those mistakes and I’ve learned from those mistakes.”
“Sometimes fights happen, and unfortunately instead of being a diffuser like I am now, back then I would engage,” he added. “And as a wiser, older man, fighting or involving yourself in stuff like that is just stupid and dangerous.”
The most serious criminal offense happened in 2001. Armer was charged with two counts of felony battery in Illinois. Court records state Armer was one of several people who punched and kicked a man on a Rock Island street, causing severe injuries.
Armer pleaded guilty to a single count of felony battery. He was sentenced to probation for 30 months. Additional punishment included payment of fines and fees, restitution for the victim and court-ordered anger management.
Other run-ins with police were lower-level misdemeanors, some of which were dismissed by the courts for a lack of witness testimony.
In 2004, Armer was charged with fighting two other men in Rock Island’s downtown district in the early morning hours after witnesses said he was leaving a bar. Two men told police Armer became violent after one challenged him for insulting a Chinese food vendor – an allegation Armer denied at the time – and one was taken by ambulance to Trinity West Medical Center.
Armer could not recall details of that incident during his interview with the Times but suggested at one point that he may have been wrongfully arrested. The case against Armer was dismissed after material witnesses did not show up to testify on a scheduled trial date, court records show.
In 2012, the most recent charge, Armer was accused of battering a man during a fight involving several people outside of a Rock Island District bar. Police reported that Armer broke the nose of a man who was trying to help an injured friend on the ground. That case was also dismissed by Rock Island County prosecutors, court records show.
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On the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, Armer has been charged with seven low-level misdemeanors in Davenport and Bettendorf. Three are petty offenses, including underage possession of alcohol and curfew violations. Others showed a pattern of violent behavior around area bars while drinking.
“If I ever got into a fight with somebody, I was not just fighting some random person. They were fighting me,” Armer said when asked if he has any regrets about fighting in the past. “But the idea of hurting somebody is sad. So yeah, serious regret for any type of physical pain that I would have caused anybody.”
Born and raised in Davenport, Armer attended college at St. Ambrose University. He owned and ran a local professional boxing management outfit called Armer Boxing. The company still technically exists, though Armer says he has gravitated away from that world over the years because of health concerns and personal changes.
Now, Armer works in construction management and does physical training at a Bettendorf kickboxing gym. And as he seeks a position on the city council, his first try at public office, he considers himself a good person to hear, understand and communicate the concerns of his neighbors in City Hall.
Major focuses of his campaign include providing more youth outreach to address rises in some juvenile crime, fixing aging city streets and infrastructure and calling for a permanent solution to flooding.
“One thing that’s my biggest issue with the flood situation is there’s been a complete lack of accountability,” said Armer, who added that he wants to learn more about the available solutions before offering a specific path forward on that issue.
He also wants to see the decriminalization of marijuana at the local level, though state officials say Iowa law could prevent such action.
In Iowa, some felons are restricted from voting or running for public office unless they receive a pardon from the governor or president of the United States. But because Armer was convicted of his felony in Illinois, a state that restores rights to felons upon completion of their sentences, he is eligible to hold office in Iowa, said Molly Widen, a legal advisor with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.
Armer said he explored the question of his eligibility to hold public office through his own attorney, who advised him that he was legally entitled to exercise that right.
The 3rd Ward covers all of downtown as well as some of the most impoverished parts of the city. Alderwoman Marion Meginnis has represented the area since she won a special election in 2017. She is now defending her seat against two challengers, including Armer.
The other candidate eyeing Meginnis’ seat is Paul Vasquez, a longtime resident who previously ran for council in 2009. This year's three-way race triggered the upcoming Oct. 8 primary election contest. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on Nov. 5.
In the coming weeks, Armer said he intends to continue knocking on doors and introducing himself to as many people from the district as he can. He says he wants to get to know them and vice versa. And when it comes to his past, he wants voters to understand that he is not the same person he was years ago.
“We can’t let our past define us,” Armer said. “Because I’ve lived that type of life and handled myself in that type of way in the past, now I know exactly how I should never act.”