Civic Skinny

John Mauro’s in. Is Vilmain out? Who’s Gordon Gammack?

Revolving doors: Skinny hears Teresa Vilmain is hanging it up as the key adviser to Chet Culver’s re-election campaign, throwing that effort into still more turmoil. Earlier, Andrew Roos left as campaign manager. Still earlier, John Kirincich made what turned out to be just a cameo appearance as head of the campaign. Vilmain’s contract is up at year-end, a friend says, and she isn’t renewing. Why would she leave? “Usually, when an adviser leaves a campaign, it’s because her advice isn’t being listened to” says a political vet and Vilmain pal. At the moment, the top person on the Culver campaign seems to be Jesse Harris, whose title is deputy campaign manager and who — like Vilmain and unlike Kirincich and Roos — knows Iowa and Iowa politics. ...

And Skinny hears that Gunnar Olson, one of the best of the young Des Moines Register reporters, is leaving for a PR job at the transit company. It’s a new position — more than 200 people applied for it — and it offers more security than can be found these days in a newsroom. With continuing furloughs and uncertainty at the Register, he told a friend, “I felt like I was playing chicken with my future.”

Meantime, Register editor Carolyn Washburn served up one final slap at the outgoing John Carlson. In a 596-word note to the staff — a note sent to us from a person calling herself “skinny throat” — Washburn describes the person she wants to succeed him as Iowa columnist as a “rise-to-the-occasion performer” who apparently will be asked to do everything but change the oil in readers’ cars, though if the reader is an “inherently interesting” Iowan or has a car that “the state is talking about” the columnist might have to do that as part of his or her “photo/video/notes blog” that will be required along with the at-least-three-times-a-week column. The note also says, “This is not an opinion column,” reinforcing the impression she was unhappy with Carlson because his column occasionally showed his mildly conservative leanings, though it does say the column “should be infused with personal... perspective.” One code-breaker’s interpretation: At the Register, liberals have perspective; conservatives have opinion. But the insult to the veteran and well-liked Carlson: After mentioning in passing the fine work done by former Register reporter Ken Fuson, she ends her note this way: “The Iowa columnist should have high standards, high expectations, execute at the highest levels, and contend for national writing awards. Our modern-day Ernie Pyle, Studs Terkel, Chuck Offenburger, Gordon Gammack.” Nowhere is there a mention of Carlson, who wrote the column for the past 11 years and who spent 31 years toiling in the Register’s vineyard. “Omitting him from that list at the end couldn’t have been a louder ‘fuck you’ to the guy,” one Register watcher wrote to his pals.

Explanatory note for any reader under 60: Gordon Gammack was a Des Moines Tribune columnist who died 35 years ago. He was a first-rate war correspondent and human being but a second-rate columnist. Explanatory note for any reader under 40: The Des Moines Tribune was an afternoon newspaper that closed in 1982. Explanatory note for anyone who’s interested: the RNT in the radio-station call letters KRNT stand for Register ‘n Tribune, which used to own the station — as well as KCCI-TV (formerly KRNT-TV) and KSO radio. …

First political note: County supervisor John Mauro, fully recovered from heart surgery and back in fighting trim, is running for re-election. He sent out a fund-raising letter last week. His district is solidly Democratic, and it’s unlikely he’ll have any serious opposition. His decision means all three incumbents whose terms are up — Mauro and fellow Democrats Tom Hockensmith and Angela Connolly — will seek re-election. And all are likely to win. But after this election, the districts of the five supervisors will have to be redrawn, so it’s not clear at all that the Democrats will keep their 3-to-2 control of the Board into the next decade.

Second political note: Insiders say the Republicans have a new internal poll that shows Terry Branstad beating Culver by nearly 30 points and Bob Vander Plaats beating the Governor by nearly 20 points. But the question remains: Can former governor Branstad beat ultra-conservative Vander Plaats in the primary? One thing the former governor might consider, says Skinny’s resident wag: Listen to David Vaudt on economic issues, not on hair styles.

Third political note: Culver is hard at work raising millions of dollars, and the other day he called a well-known out-of-Des Moines Iowa Democrat and asked for $25,000, noting that the guy ponied up $25,000 four years ago. But the guy reminded the governor that the governor had promised to call after the election and sit down and listen to the guy’s many ideas about things Culver should do when elected. And the guy reminded the governor that he never called. Yeah, said the Governor, we’ve got to get together. That’s what you said the last time, the guy replied, and then he told the governor that he wasn’t contributing anything this go-round. And — the way the guy tells it — the governor hung up. Another fellow tells a similar story about another call to another $25,000 donor who stiffed the governor this round.

Fourth political note: Republican George Eichhorn is running for Secretary of State. As openers, he is attacking incumbent Michael Mauro for things that happened when Chet Culver was secretary of state — things that Mauro has had to clean up. Another Republican who wants to take on Mauro is Council Bluffs city councilman Matt Schultz. He has attacked Mauro for not doing more for economic development — though that isn’t part of the job of the Secretary of State. A third potential candidate, former secretary of state Paul Pate of Cedar Rapids, has said in the past that the job should be abolished.

That job description for the Register column includes the hope that it will include “little items not worth a full column but delicious bits to read.”

Skinny’s reprint rights are available. CV

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