Oct 18, 2023 - Politics

Des Moines Voter Guide: Meet the candidates running for mayor

Photo illustration of Connie Boeson, Denver Foote and Josh Mandelbaum.

From left, Connie Boesen, Denver Foote and Josh Mandelbaum. Not pictured: Christopher Von Arx, who did not provide a photo. Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Courtesy of the campaigns

For the first time in about 20 years, voters won't have a chance to re-elect Frank Cownie as mayor during the Nov. 7 elections.

Why it matters: It's the top-elected position in city government.

Between the lines: The mayor is considered part-time and is officially a nonpartisan gig β€” but the person in that seat has more control than other council members to set the city's agenda.

πŸ“› The candidates

  • Connie Boesen, 72, is a DSM Councilperson, former Des Moines Public Schools board member and the owner of Applishus, a food concession business.
  • Denver Foote, 27, is a cosmetologist and a community organizer and activist.
  • Josh Mandelbaum, 44, is a DSM Councilperson and an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He was also a policy advisor for former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
  • Christopher Von Arx, 28, is a security guard and musician. In response to Axios' question about his qualifications, he said he's read the apocryphal texts and believes in the prophecies.

πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Speed round

🀰 Would you support or oppose a city ordinance to make DSM an abortion sanctuary city?

  • Boesen: ❓ I believe that women have the right to make private decisions about their healthcare, including reproductive care, with their family, faith and healthcare professionals. As mayor, I will support any actions that the city can legally and constitutionally take, to protect access to reproductive care for those in our city.
  • Foote: πŸ‘ I would support making DSM a sanctuary city for abortion, but also make it a sanctuary city for our trans communities and other underserved communities that are being oppressed by the state of Iowa.
  • Mandelbaum: πŸ‘ There are concrete steps that cities can and should take to protect reproductive freedom. Every policy proposed has already been enacted in a city somewhere else in this country. You can learn more by reading my Des Moines Register op-ed on what the city should do here.
  • Von Arx: πŸ‘Ž

🧨 Would you support allocating a special annual police force to patrol and write illegal fireworks citations?

  • Boesen: πŸ‘ We should look at proven solutions that improve our neighborhoods. I support cracking down on fireworks violations and will work with our law enforcement leaders to secure resources for this program.
  • Foote: πŸ‘Ž There is no way to track down everyone who is doing fireworks. I understand the hazard of fireworks but we do not need a special police for this. Instead we should be asking, how are people accessing fireworks in this city?
  • Mandelbaum: πŸ‘ It is illegal to use fireworks in Des Moines. We should enforce the ordinance. At a minimum, we should take steps to prevent use at public parks, which has caused significant damage and cost to our parks system.
  • Von Arx: πŸ‘

πŸš— Would you support more (πŸ‘) or fewer (πŸ‘Ž) street diets?

  • Boesen: πŸ‘ I've been supportive of these programs and we should continue to look at the data and work with transportation experts to determine how effective they are and determine areas where this could make sense. Everyone deserves safe streets and neighborhoods, and this is one tool we should use.
  • Foote: πŸ‘ I would support more 'street diets' to make dangerous intersections safer. While implementing this we also need to look at our street infrastructure like transit, walkability and biking.
  • Mandelbaum: πŸ‘ I support implementation of MoveDSM and Vision Zero to make our roads safer and more accessible for all users. This includes identifying and redesigning roadways that are overbuilt and dangerous. I will continue to work to make our streets safer for everyone.
  • Von Arx: πŸ‘

❌ Should the city set an attendance policy for council members and the mayor?

  • Boesen: πŸ‘ I've already supported our new policy regarding this issue. Voters elect members of the City Council and the mayor to do this important work and be their voice in city government.
  • Foote: πŸ‘ Yes, but it should be the community who decides what is fair for council members. An attendance policy was, or is, currently not implemented and only is coming up because the DSM council has silenced a council member, limiting their voice and power to represent their communities.
  • Mandelbaum: πŸ‘ Yes. I voted to make this change.
  • Von Arx: πŸ‘

πŸ”Ž Going deeper

🧐 What do you think is the biggest problem facing DSM?

  • Boesen: We're at an important crossroads where we need to make smart decisions that bring the entire city along. That requires responsible economic development and support for small businesses. It also means investing in affordable housing, solutions to address public safety and mental health challenges, and giving every neighborhood tools to succeed.
  • Foote: Right now as winter is right around the corner, helping the houseless and getting people into proper housing is important. We need nonjudgmental houseless shelters, 24/7 warming and cooling centers, a ban on evictions of houseless camps and holding the police force accountable for when they harm our houseless neighbors.
  • Mandelbaum: Housing is DSM's greatest challenge because it is connected to many core issues. If someone cannot find housing that meets their needs at an affordable price then so much else is out of reach. Housing is critical to our ability to grow, create strong vibrant neighborhoods and strengthen our downtown.
  • Von Arx: Prices.

πŸ³οΈβ€βš§οΈ Should the city do anything to support transgender youth in light of recent state legislation?

  • Boesen: These laws are wrong. We need to make sure every member of the LGBTQ community, and especially youth, feel respected, welcome, and free to be their true selves in our city. I'll continue to be an advocate and support any legal action the city can take to support transgender youth.
  • Foote: The city should have released an immediate statement saying that trans and queer youth will be protected in this city. Enact special education for the police force on LGBTQ+ communities and the harm they are facing by this bill. We also must create procedures to hold police accountable for when they target our trans and LGBTQ+ neighbors.
  • Mandelbaum: DSM needs to be an inclusive, welcoming community where everyone is accepted for who they are. We should set city policy that reflects this approach. For example, Des Moines should be a model employer and provide a travel benefit for city employees whose families recently lost access to gender affirming care.
  • Von Arx: Not really.

πŸ€Ήβ€β™‚οΈ How should the city help downtown enhance its vibrancy?

  • Boesen: Residents, small businesses and large companies should all be able to succeed downtown. We need to address public safety, support arts and cultural programs, expand entertainment and recreational opportunities and also work to ensure affordable housing options.
  • Foote: We need to revitalize downtown by supporting small businesses and helping them be a part of our downtown metro. We also need to help fund and expand DART so we can have more late night DART buses going downtown to help connect our communities to downtown without the worry of driving.
  • Mandelbaum: We need to grow the downtown neighborhood and set an ambitious goal to have 40,000 people living downtown by 2040. We need to support the soccer stadium and water trails projects. If we do this, downtown will support more restaurants and shops, and attract and retain more large employers.
  • Von Arx: Relocate the Polk County Treasurer building, then turn the old one into a shopping mall. Decriminalize what everybody downtown wants legalized.

😎 What's 1 fun thing voters don't know about you?

  • Boesen: I'm a proud small business owner, with two successful concessions businesses, but people might not know I also grew up at the fairgrounds. My dad was a longtime manager of the fair, so we had to live at a home on the fairgrounds.
  • Foote: I recite and write spoken word and poetry.
  • Mandelbaum: When I was in high school, I was part of a group of students who worked with Planned Parenthood to develop a comprehensive student-led sex-education program at Roosevelt High School. We got significant attention including a feature on MTV.
  • Von Arx: I am a music artist, Buddy Von is my stage name.

✍️ Summarize the city in five words or less.

  • Boesen: Opportunity, Caring, Determined and Resilient.
  • Foote: Des Moines, you are beautiful.
  • Mandelbaum: Ready for generational change.
  • Von Arx: Potential to be way better.
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