Expensive city council race in election spotlight

Local News

DES MOINES – More than $300,000 dollars — it has been a long time since that kind of money was thrown around in a Des Moines City Council race.

The candidates for the Ward 3 seat have raised more than $300,000 dollars combined for their election campaigns. Christine Hensley has held that seat for more than 20 years but is not running for re-election. One of three men running for her seat will get the position following Tuesday’s election.

It is being called one of the city’s most expensive elections in recent memory. And the big bucks could impact voter turnout at the polls.

“I believe what happens in Ward 3 is really significant because it really does set the stage for the rest of the city,” Hensley said.

Christine Hensley understand why there is so much focus on the seat she is leaving behind. But it is still baffling to her how expensive the campaigns have been.

Local 5 weeded through the state campaign records. We found that the Ward 3 candidates have raised more than $300,000 combined. Josh Mandelbaum raised around $188,000 and Michael Kiernan raised around $112,000.

“It’s really obscene that they would raise that much for a ward seat,” Hensley said. “I mean that’s more that when you look at the at-large offices of if you look at mayor’s races, it’s way more than what’s being raised.”

A third candidate for Ward 3 – Abshir Omar – did not file a report. Candidates are required to sumbit numbers if they raise more than $1,000.

Documents show most of Mandelbaum and Kiernan’s money pays for advertising. That includes signs that are all over Des Moines’ Ward 3, as well as radio and television commercials. Kiernan spent around $40,000 on TV spots. Mandelbaum spent about $10,000.

“It’s definitely on the high end,” said Megan Tooker, the Director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, which oversees candidates’ finances.

Tooker says the money raised this year in Ward 3 is staggering.

“In the past, city council races in Des Moines have been in the tens of thousands of dollars certaintly, but this does seem to be a more expensive race than is typical,” Tooker said.

Tooker credits that to a high interest in this race. That is something election officials in Polk County are already seeing.

“40 percent of all our early votes have come out of Ward 3, which is a huge, huge number,” said Polk County Audior Jamie Fitzgerald, who also says it is impacting voter turnout. “In places like Des Moines, it’s usually between 5 and 12 percent and this year we think it’ll be 12 to 15 percent and we’re basing that solely on the amount of activity we’re seeing.”

And when it comes to the money, Hensley had one final comment: “It clearly will set a record,” Hensley said. “I know the first time I ran for elective office in Ward 3, I raised $36,000 and was criticized because I raised that amount of money. How times have changed.”

Another big race in Des Moines is for that At-Large seat on the Des Moines City Council. That is between incumbent Skip Moore and challenger Connie Boesen. Campaign records show Moore raised around $33,000 and Boesen raised around $43,000 on their campaigns.

Stay with Local 5 News, Your Local Election Headquarters, for election results on Tuesday night.

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