Photos: Tom Hanafan through the years
COUNCIL BLUFFS — Mayor Tom Hanafan vowed Wednesday to stay involved in community affairs after he leaves the mayor’s office in January.
“I don’t want to go home and lay on the couch,” Hanafan said during a press conference at City Hall. “I want to take some time off and see what happens ... I want to stay involved.”
Hanafan announced Tuesday he is not running for re-election after spending more than 25 years as mayor of Council Bluffs.
Hanafan, 65, would not speculate on who may succeed him. He said he knew of a few people looking into it, but he declined to say who they are. “I’ve heard some names but they have to make their own announcement,” he said.
The next mayor will be selected in the November election.
One of those who may enter the race is former Iowa House Speaker Brent Siegrist.
“I am definitely interested, but now that he’s made his announcement we’ll do some due diligence and make a decision in the very near future,” he said when contacted by a reporter Wednesday.
Siegrist, 60, of Council Bluffs is the executive director of the Iowa Area Education Agencies. He served in the Iowa Legislature for 18 years but did not seek re-election in 2002. He’s a Republican but said the nonpartisan nature of the mayor’s job appeals to him.
“It’s a whole new era for Council Bluffs,” he said. “It will be something for people to have a mayoral race that will likely be competitive.”
Council Bluffs climbed out of Omaha’s shadow during Hanafan’s time in office. Three large casinos, the Bass Pro Shops, Mid-American Center and shopping centers such as the Lake Manawa Center and Metro Crossing were developed, becoming major draws.
“He started the ball rolling,” said Bob Mundt, president and CEO of the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t have to be in the shadows of Omaha anymore. ... He kind of instilled that can-do attitude.”
Hanafan is longest-serving current mayor of any major Iowa city.
The Bluffs native was elected to the City Council in 1982 and appointed by the council to serve as mayor in 1985. In 1987, Council Bluffs switched to an elected mayor form of government, and Hanafan won the election.
He has served as the city's full-time mayor ever since, earning the unofficial title of “mayor for life.”
But now Hanafan is ready to turn the reins over to someone else. “Twenty-five years is a lot longer than I ever thought I'd be here,” Hanafan said.
The next mayor of Council Bluffs will be selected in the November election.
Hanafan was born and raised in Council Bluffs, growing up on the city's west side, not far from the casinos he would later help bring to the city.
“I was kind of a wild kid in high school,” Hanafan told a World-Herald reporter shortly after taking office. “I remember the principal saying I would never go anywhere in life. I wonder what he would think now.”
He graduated in 1965 from Thomas Jefferson High and earned a bachelor's degree in history and government from the University of South Dakota in 1969.
Before he assumed the city's top office, he worked as a salesman. After taking over as mayor in 1988, Hanafan set a tone of active leadership.
When a tornado struck Council Bluffs in July of that year, he stayed up all night, “red-faced and haggard,” according to a World-Herald account, directing the city's recovery efforts. His staff eventually took the mayor back to his damaged home and put him to bed. More than 80 Bluffs residents were injured in the storm.
That wasn't the only time Hanafan dealt with a major disaster.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Hanafan's ability to get things done was apparent during the Missouri River flooding during the summer of 2011.
“Tom sprang into action, monitoring the situation closely and then working with my office and other federal offices to help his community recover,” Harkin said in a statement.
But Hanafan may be most remembered for his negotiations with casino operators.
Hanafan made sure the casinos had major stakes in the Bluffs. Harvey's (now Harrah's) and Ameristar were required to build hotels near the casinos and to pay for roads and other infrastructure around their riverfront sites.
The city has received about $75 million in gambling tax revenue from the three casinos since 1996, said Art Hill, the city's finance director. This does not include the grants from the Iowa West Foundation , which is funded by investment income and, indirectly, casino revenues.
The city has used gambling money to help build the new downtown library and to fund part of the improvements to historic Bayliss Park.
Not everyone thinks gambling has been good for Council Bluffs. Pat Loontjer, executive director of Gambling with the Good Life, said that if someone were to stand on a bridge between the two cities, Omaha would appear much more prosperous.
“When you look into Omaha, you see high-rises. You see Fortune 500 companies,” Loontjer said.
She said the benefits of casino gambling are outweighed by the negative effects of gambling addiction and other problems.
The Bluffs' growth hasn't just centered on gambling, however.
The city landed a MidAmerican Energy coal plant and Google data center on Hanafan's watch.
It also developed 40 miles of hiking and biking trails and developed the River's Edge Park, which is on the eastern end of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
Council Bluffs' population has increased by at least 15 percent, or more than 8,000 residents, during Hanafan's tenure. The 1990 Census counted 54,315 Bluffs residents, while the latest Census Bureau estimate for the city was 62,466 in 2011.
Mundt lauded Hanafan's efforts to get the city's sewers separated, which started early in his tenure. The work is now nearly complete, making the city more attractive to development and industry.
Hanafan also oversaw the construction of the city-owned Mid-America Center, something he describes as a community asset, though he admits it did not work out as well as he had hoped. The center has lost money every year since opening in 2002.
“It's not where we want it to be,” he said. But “it's kind of southwest Iowa's place for entertainment and activity. … I don't look at it as a failure.”
Hanafan jokes that he has broken in several Omaha mayors during his tenure. Omaha's current mayor said Tuesday that he learned to interact with the public better by watching Hanafan.
“Being a good listener, trying to absorb what you are hearing — whether the citizen is telling you something that is complimentary or not so complimentary — you have to keep a calm about yourself,” said Mayor Jim Suttle. “I saw him do that over and over again.”
Hanafan said he is not retiring. His wife, Shirley, is retiring, and he would like to spend more time with his six grandchildren.
He said he has reached a point in his life where he does not want to be on call all the time. He says he isn't sure what's next — maybe consulting.
“I don't have anything in particular,” he said. “I want to stay active. I don't just want to go home and retire.”
Former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey said the next mayor of Council Bluffs will have big shoes to fill, but they will also have the benefit of Hanafan leaving the city in good shape.
“They have a good role model,” he said. “I think that anybody who does the job ... is bound to be successful.”
World-Herald staff writer Paul Goodsell and researcher Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1310, firstname.lastname@example.org
Major projects during Hanafan's tenure
From World-Herald and World-Herald News Service archives
Events during Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan's tenure
— July 1988: Tornado strikes causing $43 million worth of damage in Council Bluffs. Hanafan describes the tornado as “the worst catastrophe in his 41 years in Council Bluffs.”
— 1995-1996: Three casinos move into Council Bluffs after Hanafan negotiates deals with casino operators seeking to locate in the metro area. In March 1995, a casino moves into the Bluffs Run dog track (now Horseshoe). In January 1996, the Harveys (now Harrah's) and Ameristar open.
— 2002: Mid-America Center, the $74 million convention center and arena opens at the junction of Interstates 80 and 29.
— 2002: A two-year, $1.5 million renovation turns Woodrow Wilson Pool into the city's newest water park, Pirate Cove Water Park, located at 915 N. 21st St.
— 2003: Carnegie Library is renovated into a Union Pacific Museum in downtown Council Bluffs.
— September 2003: MidAmerican Energy Co., breaks ground for a $1.2 billion plant – the state's largest coal power plant.
— November 2005: A $1.15 million fundraising goal is reached for Bayliss Park. Improvements include a new fountain, a pavilion, water jets in a children's play area, sidewalks and landscaping.
— November 2005: Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World opens.
— 2007: Google announces plans to locate in Council Bluffs. In 2012, the company announces a $200 million project, which will bring its overall investment in Iowa to about $1.1 billion.
— 2009: Public art takes on monumental proportions thanks to a $9 million grant from the Iowa West Foundation. The art can be seen at the Mid-America Center, Bayliss Park and the 24th Street overpass of Interstate 80.
— 2010: Council Bluffs Public Library is renovated; teen center added.
— 2013: River's Edge Park opens. The $7 million park on the eastern end of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge will offer recreation and entertainment options. The park's centerpiece, the great lawn, will include an amphitheater capable of holding 1,100 people. The park's grand opening celebration is May 25.
Compiled by World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser.