By Alex Kramer
Rockne Cole intends to sweep a new progressive movement into city council.
Cole, an Iowa City lawyer, is running for his shot at an at-large spot on the Iowa City City Council in the Nov. 3 election, where he hopes to be highly responsive to the needs of the community at large.
Cole, who is from Decorah, graduated from the University of Iowa College Law, and is a partner at the Cole and Vondra law firm.
“We have a very progressive community, and I’ve never really felt the council reflects the community as a whole. I think that they’re good people, but they really represent a small number of stakeholders,” he said. “I don’t like the word ‘takeover.’ What I like is bringing in new voices to the community to effectively collaborate with past and present leadership.”
Cole is part of a the progressive “Core Four” coalition in the election, along with incumbent Jim Throgmorton, Pauline Taylor, and John Thomas.
Cole, who has lived in Iowa City since 1997, said he loves the town and its diversity of ideas, the people, and the neighborhoods, but he has seen some major changes.
“I think Iowa City is experiencing a period of dynamic growth, but unfortunately it’s becoming polarized by race and class,” he said. “I don’t feel the current leadership is ensuring that we have robust economic growth for all of our residents.”
Robust economic growth will be an aspect of great importance, Cole said.
“Priority No. 1 is increasing payrolls and profits. I think it’s really important that we make sure that that minimum wage increase works for all of our residents,” he said. “We will be close collaborators with our small businesses.”
Another area of economic growth is making sure there are healthy, family-friendly neighborhoods people want to move to, Cole said.
“In terms of the quality of life initiative, I think we really need to make sure we have bike-friendly street designs so we can increase ways in our choice to move around in addition to our cars,” he said. “That will be another big focus.”
Another reason Cole is running is to encourage people to stay in the area after they graduate.
“We’re home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. How do we provide opportunities for our dynamic writing community after they graduate?” he said. “How do we develop such a healthy economic climate that, after they graduate, our students seriously consider Iowa City as a place they want to stay and raise a family?”
Cole’s progressive campaign is drawing in people who wouldn’t normally get involved with local politics, said Jeff Biggers, an IC resident, author, and journalist.
“Rockne is a longtime expert in urban planning, health care, and civil rights. He has always been in the forefront in making sure we thrive as a city,” Biggers said. “And now it’s time to bring that valuable community work into the City Council chambers. This is the first time in nearly a half century that will have a real impact on the city.”
Supporters are also looking for him to bring new proposals to the table.
“He is looking for new ideas beyond some of the things the community has been thinking about. His vision is very positive,” said Karen Nichols, an Iowa City educational writer and editor. “There’s this notion that a progressive candidate would be anti-business and I don’t think that’s true. That’s kind of a false dichotomy.”
Cole is not a one-sided candidate, Nichols said. She noted his experience owning the law firm, a small business.
“He wants to see all variety of people thrive,” she said.
Cole would like to capture the essence of what makes Iowa City such a great place, he said, as well as restore a sense of balance to the representation on City Council.
“There are essentially insiders and outsiders in the community, and I don’t think that’s a good dynamic. We all need to work together to effectively realize what our goals are,” he said. “There should only be one Iowa City.”