Q&A: Mayor Bruce Teague talks reelection, his vision of Iowa City, COVID-19

The Daily Iowan sat down with Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague where he discussed his reelection, his ongoing vision of Iowa City, and the hurdles of the pandemic.


Katina Zentz

Mayor Bruce Teague is sworn in during the City Council meeting at Iowa City City Hall on Thursday, January 2, 2020. The city councilors also voted on appointments for a number of city commissions.

Sabine Martin, News Editor

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague will run for reelection for the Iowa City City Council November 2 election. Teague said he will be “humbly asking” for the Iowa City City Council to appoint him as mayor for a second term. He has been mayor since being elected in 2018 in a special election. Teague announced his reelection on June 17 during the Iowa City Juneteenth celebration.

The Daily Iowan: Why did you choose to run for Iowa City City Council reelection?

Teague: I wasn’t exactly sure that I would run for reelection, I really just went through the process of doing the day to day on council. And then, of course, this year I was up for reelection, and I just knew that for me, there’s still more work to be done. I want to be a part of that work in some of the things that we’ve started. I want to continue to work on. We have lots of things on our agenda and I don’t believe that I’m done with the work that I have to do.

There are so many things that we still have to do on council, of course. We are still in the pandemic, and so we’re going to work through some funding sources that are coming through. You’ve probably heard of the American Rescue Funds. We got $18.2 million dollars, so we’re going to have to start to allocate at some point. We want to hear from the public and do some collaboration with the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, as well as other municipalities that are interested, so that we can do the best thing possible for those in our community. It’s a great opportunity that we have with those funds.

And the other thing is we know that in 2020 with the death of George Floyd, that really stirred up a call in our community to make sure that we are being very intentional and looking at systemic racism. And so, we have started that process. With our resolution that we did, it was a 17-point resolution, and so we are working our way through those 17 points, and I’m still committed to that. I feel that there’s still a lot of work to be done…so I want to continue to work on that with people in our community. We are making progress, but we also need to move, we need to continue moving forward on that.

The DI: Is there any Iowa City City Council business that is still ongoing today after your first term?

Teague: Affordable housing is one of them, and a part of the challenge that we have in our community is some of the zoning codes that we have. So, on July 27, during our work session, we’re going to start looking at our zoning codes and making some changes there. My hope is by the end of the year, we’ll have changes [that] really match our values. As of now, we have some comprehensive plans that are 20 years old. And since 20 years ago, affordable housing and climate action probably weren’t a high priority. But now, it is for this council. We need to have our policies, procedures, zoning codes, comprehensive plan, all reflect that of our values today.

The DI: What council business are you proud of completing during your first term as Iowa City Mayor?

Teague: We certainly have made some efforts towards affordable housing. We have now annually spent $1 million to affordable housing. We also have been committed to the South District housing program. So, I was a part of that initial conversation on council when we approved to have a South District affordable housing, where this was an opportunity for people that are renters, to be owners within that. They live in that area, and we give them first preference. I am very proud of that.

I am very proud that I was a part of the deciding vote, one of the seven votes, unanimous votes, that came from council to make Juneteenth a city holiday. There are many, many more things, I can go down the list. But those are just a few that I’m really proud to be a part of.

The DI: Obviously, this year was very unprecedented with the pandemic, so what were some challenges of the last year?

RELATED: Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague to formally announce reelection after first term

Teague: One of the biggest challenges that I found was communication with people in the community where the pandemic was very new. There were a lot of fears, there were a lot of misconceptions, and so I started to do a program called “Community Connection.” I brought guests on initially, just to talk about COVID-19 related items and so that was something that I really found to be important just to have opportunities for communication to be out there. The name of the show continues today, and it’s called Community Connection with Mayor Bruce Teague. That’s what I’ve continued to do is just to give opportunity for people within our community that come and talk about COVID-19. We have expanded the topics for anyone that wants to come and be a guest.

The DI: Have there been any conversations with Iowa City community members that have stuck out to you?

Teague: There are many, of course. Sam Jarvis from Johnson County Public Health was a very important one where we had him come on several times to begin. Of course, we had the University of Iowa, Mercy [Hospital], as well as the Veterans Association. The guests on there just really gave updates during that critical period where there were lots of questions about how we get the COVID-19 tests, how many people are sick in the hospital, what is the success rate of the first line workers. So, those are some real critical information pieces. I also found it to be very helpful to continue to go forward and publicly speak during the Black Lives Matter movement. There were several times when I spoke to the community just about Black Lives Matter. I’ve had several great guests come on and talk about the opportunities here within Iowa City to keep our community informed, which was the entire intention: to keep people informed during a time where we were all isolated from each other.

The DI: If anything, what would you have done differently about Iowa City’s COVID-19 response?

Teague: The reality is that it was so novel that we needed to do what we believed was in the best interest from a public safety standpoint. Personally, I, in the moment, all the decisions that I made, like the mask mandate, even the consideration to have a stay-in-place order — which I did not — those were all hard conversations to have. It’s trying to find balance on what is the most appropriate thing to do for everyone within our community, from a public safety standpoint, and so I don’t really have any regrets. I take it all as opportunities to learn.

I also hope that we’re never in a pandemic again. It’s certainly been an eye opener on so many levels, of the importance of people having access to come together and be engaged because depression is real. Mental health certainly increased during this time with some mental health challenges for individuals. The importance of opportunities to be together is so important in so lifting the mass mandate, after the CDC guidance came out, I felt was my duty and responsibility. When I put the mask mandate in place, that’s actually who I listened to was CDC who said that mask mandates must be in place in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.

The DI: What was your work schedule like during the height of the pandemic?

Teague: Busy, busy, busy. It was 80 plus hours a week trying to figure things out. The conversations were day in and day out. Not only was it with my fellow councilors, but it was also with the city manager and the city attorney. There were many opportunities where I had to run into the office immediately while we were seeing some COVID-19 numbers jump. It was certainly a very different year because it lasted so long. During the times of floods or anything, that is a moment in time and comes to a resolution, but the pandemic is ongoing. The Black Lives Matter movement is also an ongoing event that requires my attention on a daily basis.

The DI: What have you learned in your first term as the Iowa City Mayor?

Teague: I know the importance of ensuring that the individual as Mayor does represent the voice of the community when they speak on behalf of Iowa City. Iowa City is very known throughout the state and even the nation, and so this is a critical role and I believe that whoever is in this role needs to be an igniter and needs to know how to connect with people no matter what their walk of life is. There are hard decisions to be made and I think the individual must be intentional. As mayor, I have been very humbled and honored to have this opportunity to be the voice of Iowa City. I do believe that I was born for this moment in time, so I don’t take that lightly, and I am very grateful to everyone who has been supportive this past year.

There still continues to be a lot of work to be done. There is a great opportunity to continue the unification that I started while being Mayor and I certainly will be humbly asking for my fellow councilors to give me that opportunity again in January, should I survive the election in November.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.