No easy choices


Maybe Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba once ran from a fight, but it’s hard to imagine. There are too many examples of him jumping into a public fray or standing up when he’d likely be knocked down by political giants. His latest involve the siting of a new football stadium in the city and making Davenport a haven for some of the Central American children coming across the southern United States border.
Years ago, when the idea of consolidating the city’s two hospitals was first proposed, Gluba worked with Father James Conroy, longtime chaplain at Mercy Hospital, in resisting a merger with St. Luke’s because the latter accepted abortion. Mercy was eventually swallowed into the new hospital known as Genesis and the abortion business was taken over by Planned Parenthood.
In 1982 and again in 1988 Gluba accepted the sacrificial role of Democratic Party candidate for Congress in Iowa’s First District against the Republican Jim Leach. At the time, Leach was winning re-election regularly with more than 60 percent of the vote, including votes from many Democrats who appreciated this particular Republican’s moderate, non-ideological manner and his record.
More recently, as Davenport’s mayor, Gluba stirred the local business and political pot by proposing that the city buy out the operators of River City Casino, the gambling boat sitting on its riverfront. With little investment by its owners, that casino’s business was a poor third to two others in the Quad-Cities. The mayor’s original idea was shot down but it got a serious conversation started. The result will apparently be a new privately owned gambling development on the city’s other side, near Interstate 80, and a return of the downtown Mississippi Riverfront to fuller public access.
Four years ago, St. Ambrose University proposed the building of an athletic complex on property it owned behind Davenport Diocese headquarters known as St. Vincent Center and the adjacent Assumption High School. A neighborhood of moderate-priced homes fills the area east of that property. Because Duck Creek parkway runs along the north edge of the proposed development, the only direct access to it from an arterial street is from Central Park Avenue, the southern border along that stretch of Catholic institutions.
Neighbors fear that their quiet, settled life will end if the St. Ambrose project is allowed to go forward. The university responded to early resistance by cutting back on the size of the stadium proposed, from 5,000 seats to 2,500, and making other changes. That has not satisfied the homeowners, although it was enough to get a majority vote from Davenport’s city council.
The mayor then vetoed the proposal, the first veto of Gluba’s six-and-one-half years in that office. He noted that he was an alumnus of St. Ambrose and valued the contribution it makes to the city. But he said his first responsibility was to the integrity of neighborhoods rather than the expansion of private entities. As this is written, the city council has not yet held a vote on overriding Gluba’s veto.
At the same time he is taking heat for suggesting that groups in Davenport organize to see if there are ways to take in some of the children running from the gangs, drugs and violence in Central America. What may come of this is yet to be seen, but at least the Gluba initiative represents a Catholic education and sensibility toward refugees. The same can’t be said for another Iowa Catholic politician, our governor, Terry Branstad. He prefers to see the children crossing our border as “illegal” and shift the focus to President Obama as a failure in “securing” national borders.
As for the St. Ambrose project, both sides have good points. The university does need better facilities near its campus and the neighborhood deserves its integrity. The main problem is probably access by car and parking for the sports complex. If the city and St. Ambrose could agree on a second access road that avoids or skirts the neighborhood, there might be a win-win end to this controversy.
Whatever happens, we know that Davenport’s mayor well understands another Irishman, the fictional Mr. Dooley, who declares, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”
Frank Wessling

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