Five Iowa City Council candidates discuss affordable housing, transportation

The three candidates vying for two at-large Iowa City Council positions, and two councilors running unopposed in their respective districts, had an opportunity to mingle with students and present their platforms at a forum held Wednesday in the IMU.

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Five Iowa City Council candidates discuss affordable housing, transportation

City Council candidates Laura Bergus (left), Janice Weiner (center) and Megan Alter speak with potential supports at the UISG City Council Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Bergus, Weiner, and Alter are running for two at-large City Council seats.

City Council candidates Laura Bergus (left), Janice Weiner (center) and Megan Alter speak with potential supports at the UISG City Council Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Bergus, Weiner, and Alter are running for two at-large City Council seats.

City Council candidates Laura Bergus (left), Janice Weiner (center) and Megan Alter speak with potential supports at the UISG City Council Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Bergus, Weiner, and Alter are running for two at-large City Council seats.

City Council candidates Laura Bergus (left), Janice Weiner (center) and Megan Alter speak with potential supports at the UISG City Council Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Bergus, Weiner, and Alter are running for two at-large City Council seats.

Charles Peckman, Senior Reporter

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Room 181 of the IMU was rife with conversations about affordable housing, transportation, and climate change Wednesday evening for the University of Iowa Student Government “Questions with the Candidates” forum, which gave five Iowa City City Council candidates an opportunity to mingle with students and present their platforms.

Despite the drove of Democratic presidential candidates cycling through Iowa City recently, the Nov. 5 City Council election — which includes two at-large positions and councilors from districts A and C — has a much more “immediate” impact on Iowa’s City of Literature, at-large candidate Janice Weiner said.

Weiner, who moved back to Iowa City after a 20-year career as a foreign diplomat, said affordable housing will remain a key issue for the council. 

“I think we need to look at more systemic approaches to [affordable housing],” she said. “The council needs to make everyone more involved in the process — including developers and builders — to find out what changes need to be made. Maybe it’s reducing setbacks, maybe it’s creating smaller lots, but in any case, I think there are many ways to tackle this issue.”

RELATED: Megan Alter announces bid for Iowa City City Council seat

Regardless of potential perspectives of affordable housing in Iowa City, Weiner said it is impossible to talk about housing without discussing other salient issues, as well.

“None of the issues impacting Iowa City are in a vacuum,” Weiner said. “You don’t talk about housing without including transportation, and of course these issues are related to climate change and the crisis issued by council recently. These issues are interconnected.”

At-large candidate Megan Alter echoed the connection between various issues in Iowa City. Alter decided to make Iowa City home after moving to the Hawkeye State for graduate school.

“If we tackle these issues holistically, then we will be able to deal with things like walkability, for example,” Alter said. “There’s an inherent tension with government — government doesn’t move quickly, not that you would want it to, but when you look at the puzzle pieces that make up the city, the council has the ability to implement real change.”

The third at-large candidate, Laura Bergus, agreed that affordable housing and transportation remain important issues, but said that her experience as an attorney and moderator has allowed her to sort through copious amounts of data and mediate conflict when discussions become contentious with a level head and can-do attitude.

RELATED: Iowa City councilor to seek re-election in November 

“I think the main thing that my training as an attorney has given me is that it has enabled me to take in a lot of information at once and process it efficiently,” she said. “I focus on issue spotting, so if there are one or two people voicing a concern, let’s say, I can truly say ‘I’m hearing you, let’s talk about this, let’s come up with a solution.’”

Bergus said she is “fully supportive” of the City Council’s progressive agenda, but often becomes frustrated with the gridlock and drawn-out discussions that can block a resolution, for example, from moving forward.

Although the councilors from districts A and C, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas, respectively, are both running unopposed in the upcoming election, Taylor said this does not impact her intention to bring about “real change” on issues pertinent in the “town/gown split” of Iowa City.

“I’m looking forward to what the next four years hold,” Taylor said. “[The council] has to continue bringing attention to the issues and what we can do to enact change.”

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