With the field of mayoral hopefuls officially narrowed to Alderman Mike Matson and Alderwoman Rita Rawson, Davenport voters will soon make a choice between two candidates forwarding different agendas and visions for a prosperous Davenport.
The mayor does not wield great power under Davenport’s form of government, which employs a city administrator that oversees various department heads that handle the delivery of city services. Still, serving as the face of the city, the next mayor will offer ideas and suggestions with regard to establishing a direction on citywide concerns.
Matson and Rawson each have varied campaign platforms that aim to address a number of Davenport’s needs, including business growth, attracting more residents to the area and investing in aging infrastructure. But they have somewhat different priorities they wish to take as they look toward the future.
Matson has put public safety as his No. 1 issue along the campaign trail, referencing that as an area that could use additional investment in the form of policing technologies and through a conceptual juvenile justice center that’s been a key focus under Klipsch’s tenure. He has presented himself as the wise choice in large part because he has been with the City Council for nearly 12 years, saying he has forged the personal relationships necessary to communicate with local stakeholders and leaders.
Referencing his career with the military, Matson points to ability to deal with the Rock Island Arsenal as a plus considering its importance to the local economy as a top employer. He wants to see business growth on the island and thinks his background makes him best positioned to help do that.
“I can talk the talk with them and I can walk the walk with them,” Matson said of Arsenal leaders as well as local elected officials.
Rawson, meanwhile, has been on the City Council for nearly four years. While she has had less time as an elected member in local government, Rawson says she came with the focus on revitalizing urban areas specifically and has “tried to make her time on council count for something.”
Her approach to problem-solving is rooted in looking at data and studies, she says, and she considers her professional background as a part of a “well-rounded” and diverse resume that sets her apart.
“That’s why I really do think I’m the better candidate,” Rawson said.
Six sought the mayor’s office this year in what became a hotly contested race to take over for outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch. Klipsch chose not to seek a third term citing a desire to spend more time with family.
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In the resulting primary election, Matson was the top performer in the primary with 33% of the vote. An extremely close contest between Rawson and third-place finisher Dan Portes triggered a recount last week that ended with no substantial changes to the outcome. With all the ballots tallied, Rawson beat Portes by only 10 votes.
Still, there is a little more than two weeks to go before the next mayor is elected and many voters supported unsuccessful candidates during the primary. Portes along with the other three received about 45% of voters collectively, and an open question remains as to who those voters will support.
But as they compete for the mayor’s office, Matson and Rawson each point to separate areas they consider major milestones for the city.
Rawson references the implementation of the city’s new housing program Davenport DREAM, a grant-funded opportunity for area homeowners that uses dollars from local and federal tax revenues. Providing more affordable housing choices and reigniting the core areas of the city were issues she brought up before she sought elected office, and she points to other steps including the city’s recent changed status as first-in-line for purchasing delinquent county properties she led as a positive step toward creating a better housing situation.
Matson references the fact that the city does not have a casino along the riverfront among his proudest moments on council. He points to himself as a leader on avoiding what he describes as something that could have been a major burden on Davenport taxpayers. Other big things he attributes to the actions of the council include Davenport being named among the top military communities in the country and investments into riverfront parks.
Both candidates also bring different life experiences to the table.
Matson grew up in Davenport but lived in other areas around the country and the world through his career with the U.S. Army, from which he retired as a sergeant major. An opportunity to teach a specialized Junior ROTC program opened up with Davenport Central High School and he moved back with family to settle into the community.
Rawson is from Kansas City and grew up in severe poverty, eventually relocating to the Davenport after graduating from Grinnell College in central Iowa. She works as a financial adviser and moved here to start her own business, which she says was a lifelong goal.
Davenport's upcoming municipal election is Nov. 5. Competitive races are also happening in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th wards.