CEDAR FALLS — Cedar Falls has its first official candidate for mayor.
Tom Blanford, 29, a former City Council member and human rights commissioner, announced Wednesday he is running to replace Mayor Rob Green, who has not said whether he’ll run for a second term.
Blanford said the coronavirus pandemic, which took the life of his father in February, motivated him to run in the November election.
“It’s been a tough year for all of us, for a lot of different reasons,” Blanford said. “We can look for someone to blame and look for the negative, or we can reach out a hand and lift each other up.”
Blanford graduated from Cedar Falls High School and the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He is the vice president of administration for Collins Holding Company in Cedar Falls.
He was appointed to the city’s Human Rights Commission in 2012 and served three years until he ran for City Council, besting Jim Stichter in 2015 to become the Ward 4 representative for one four-year term. He was named mayor pro tem in 2018 and again in 2019 before losing his seat to current council member Simon Harding.
In 2015, Blanford was endorsed by the Cedar Falls firefighters union amid the squabble over public safety officers and the Northeast Iowa Board of Realtors regarding their opposition to new rental codes.
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“We face of number of challenges that must be addressed,” Blanford told The Courier in 2015, noting that included “an extremely low rate of retention of graduates of our local higher education institutions.” He said a strategic plan was needed to address the current and future needs of the city.
In his time on the council, Blanford voted against new rental ordinances that passed, in favor of new nuisance laws that also passed, and against allowing chickens within city limits, which didn’t pass at the time but became legal after a March vote.
Blanford also argued the city should have a voting member on the Sturgis Falls board after the festival needed a $100,000 city loan following a rain-soaked 2014 festival.
“We’ve asked the city and public to loan public funds to be used for this event, which is a great event I’ve supported my entire life,” Blanford said in 2017. “But when you accept public funds, there’s a level of obligation that goes along with that.”
Also in 2017, Blanford opposed a ban on discharging fireworks in the city, saying it was unenforceable; advocated against a part-time mayor; and voted in the minority against an ordinance making landlords pave their parking lots.
By the 2019 election, Blanford was a supporter of the public safety officer model, in contrast to Harding, a possible factor in his loss.
He said as mayor he would help guide the city’s long-term planning strategy, work closely with council members to “find common ground and work toward solutions,” bring new businesses to the city and work with UNI to “address workforce issues” they’re facing.
“I will be on the ground, putting the time in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I think that’s what we need to see now,” Blanford said.
Asked if Mayor Green is doing that now, Blanford said, “I frankly think at least we could be doing better.”
He said the council is “losing sight” of what recent vision plans were intended to do — position the city for development for the next few decades — and instead is getting bogged down in minutia, including concerns about parking.
“There is sufficient inventory, at least for where we’re at today,” regarding parking, Blanford said. “That certainly changes as the city grows, but I think the biggest thing that came out of those parking studies was just inventory was being mismanaged.”
Blanford said he’s interested in “the need for Cedar Falls to come together, pull each other up and move forward,” and said voters will “know exactly where I stand.”
“I’m ready to listen and to learn and to understand, but then we’re going to come together and get something done,” he said. “This is going to be two years of action in Cedar Falls.”