Mayor Mike Matson says the key to Davenport's and the Quad-City region's success is built on "partnership, teamwork and collaboration."
It's that cooperation, Matson said, that has helped Davenport weather the pandemic and 2020 derecho, and secure private and public investments to lay the groundwork for building for a more resilient and prosperous Davenport.
Matson spoke Thursday in the last of two forums sponsored by Iowa Women United to give Davenport voters an opportunity to meet and question the two candidates running for mayor in the Nov. 2 election.
Matson, a retired U.S. Army special operations sergeant major, is seeking re-election to a second term. He previously served on Davenport’s City Council for more than a decade before defeating former City Council member Rita Rawson to replace then-outgoing Mayor Frank Klipsch in the November 2019 city election.
He is being challenged by community activist Athena Gilbraith. Gilbraith is pushing for change. She says Davenport must be more inclusive, offer more prosperity to a wider range of people and invest in neglected parts of the city, including central and west Davenport.
If elected, Gilbraith would be the city’s first Black mayor, and has said Davenport needs more diverse leadership.
Matson said he is running to continue what he described as the city’s strong momentum on a number of fronts -- from flood mitigation, to crime prevention and economic development.
The Davenport City Council will receive a report Nov. 9 from a city-hired consulting firm on recommended flood mitigation measures. The "road map" is expected to include more than 40 projects for the downtown and the city's nine miles of riverfront. Earthen berms, permanent pumping stations and major storm-sewer repairs are among the tools the city is likely to employ in its efforts to reduce the severity of damage wrought by increasingly frequent Mississippi River floods.
Projects would be phased over time and rely on annual capital-improvement funding by the city and on state and federal grants. The price tag is likely to exceed $100 million in total.
He noted much of what needs to happen to reduce flood damage in Davenport must occur under ground to fix damaged and dated storm sewers that allow floodwaters to rise from below.
The city has budgeted $4 million of federal COVID-19 recovery funds in improvements to city storm sewer systems along River Drive to alleviate roadway flooding. Completion of the storm sewer and roadway improvements would enable the city to keep the major roadway accessible up to a flood stage of 22 feet, reducing disruption to the public and businesses, and allow the city to delay the start of flood fighting in many areas until higher river stages, according to the consultant.
"The big thing with the flood mitigation, at least from my perspective ... is commerce keeps staying open," Matson said. "Meaning, River Drive. ... We're going to try to deal with and attack some of the underground stuff, both with (federal) money and (city tax dollars). Then the big discussion starts, frankly."
Matson said he has spoken with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, her state budget director and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, whom he says have expressed a willingness to partner with the city to fund flood-fighting efforts.
He also pointed to recent successes in job creation, notably Amazon’s decision to build a fulfillment center in northwest Davenport in the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center that is expected to bring 1,000 new jobs starting at $16 an hour. He highlighted planned investments in extending a major sewer line in west Davenport to allow for future commercial and industrial expansion and noted the city is taking other steps, like preparing for redevelopment of the NorthPark Mall area.
The mayor, as well, said he’s been a collaborator with local, state and federal government officials to attract new public and private resources to invest in crime prevention.
Matson lauded the recent launch of the Youth Assessment Program aimed at connecting youth and families to preventative behavioral and mental health services to lower juvenile crime.
YAP is operated by Family Resources and supported by city of Davenport, city of Bettendorf, Scott County, United Way Quad-Cities and the John Deere Foundation.
Davenport alderman also approved using $750,000 in federal COVID relief funds to hire "violence interrupters" — community members who would aid police in heading off conflicts before they turn deadly.
Matson said he and city officials are committed to focused deterrence. The carrot-and-stick approach aims to deter crime by increasing the swiftness, severity and certainty of punishment for crimes, while providing coordinated outreach and support for people most at-risk of being a party to violence, offering incentives for avoiding violence by connecting them to needed social services.
The state of Iowa has provided investigative technical resources, both human and forensic, and technical computer systems to Davenport to try to combat the increase in gun crime, after Matson reached out to Gov. Reynolds in early June to request assistance. Davenport is also working with the U.S. Department of Justice and received a $700,000 federal grant to create a crime analysis division.
"I have said before and I will continue to say ... once you use a gun in a commission of a crime, we're doing everything we can and coming after you with everything we've got," Matson said.
Gilbraith, along with many of the roughly 20 Davenport residents to attended Thursday's forum, said the city needs to do more to attract more affordable housing.
Matson said he supports investing in some of the ideas offered by the Quad-Cities Housing Cluster in its "Silos to Solutions" report.
"I'm a fan and we've already had discussions with our particular city administrators to find funding to help with that," Matson. "That, to me, seems like a good place to put some money."
Davenport resident Bill Churchill, who attended the forum, said he intends to vote for Matson.
"They are putting the pieces in place to solve the problem" of gun crime, Churchill said. "And, I think progress is being made."
Confirmed incidents of gun fire in Davenport fell 26% year to date compared to the same period in 2020, according to Davenport police.
"We tend to be impatient on this issue, because obviously it's a serious offense to have guns involved," Churchill said. "But, I do think we are head in the right direction, and I do think that's really what you can hope for at this point."