Sep 21, 2023 - News

After 20 years, Des Moines' mayor won't seek re-election

A photo of Frank Cownie.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie is a Roosevelt High School graduate who attended ISU on a swimming scholarship prior to serving in the Iowa Army National Guard. Photo: Courtesy of the city of DSM

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie won't seek re-election in November, he announced in a five-page thank you letter to the city Thursday.

Why it matters: After almost 20 years, Cownie is the longest-serving mayor in DSM history.

  • The decision guarantees new leadership in the city's top-elected seat in January.

Catch up fast: Cownie's family owns and operates Cownie Furs, a local business that began as a glove company in the late 1800s.

  • He served several terms on the city's Planning and Zoning Commission before being elected to an at-large city council seat in November 2001.
  • In 2003, he defeated former longtime Councilperson Christine Hensley to become mayor.

State of play: Cownie, 75, is recognized internationally for advocating that local governments lead environmental efforts.

Flashback: His family business was flooded in 1993 and, in 2008, he was mayor when a DSM levee breach caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

What's happening: Cownie tells Axios that he frequently spends 40+ hours a week doing mayoral work, which currently pays $58K annually and is considered part-time.

  • He and his family now want to focus more on their business.

Of note: DSM mayor's salary increases to $70K in January.

The intrigue: Cownie says he's not retiring, noting that his father worked every day until he was 90.

  • Cownie Furs' retail location along Ingersoll Avenue remains open but it's possible that portions of the business could pivot to online services, he says.

Zoom in: DSM's council is officially nonpartisan but politics undoubtedly influence local governing, Cownie tells Axios.

  • The Democrat advises the city's next mayor to work with everyone and avoid turning local issues into partisan disputes.
  • He's uncertain whether he'll endorse a candidate but says the November election will determine the city's course "during a critical and uncertain time."

What's next: The deadline for candidates to file for city elections is today.

1 quote to go: "I feel like I've given my heart and soul to this job and, if I were to do it over again, I wouldn't do anything less," Cownie tells Axios.

A photo of Frank Cownie.
Frank Cownie played photographer to the city's Youth Advisory Board, who he welcomed to DSM City Hall last month. Photo: Courtesy of the city of DSM
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