It's doubtful that the Council Bluffs City Council members who chose Tom Hanafan to serve as mayor in 1985 expected him to still be on the job in 2013. Hanafan, who announced last week that he will retire in January, says he never did.
But he won the post in 1987, when the city switched to an elected mayor system, and has been re-elected ever since. His city has a lot to show for it.
Early in that first elected term, he helped lead the city's recovery from a 1988 tornado that did $43 million in damage. In the 1990s, Hanafan negotiated deals with three casinos that located in Council Bluffs.
After that came many civic improvements, including the Mid-America Center; a $1.5 million renovation that turned Woodrow Wilson Pool into Pirate Cove Water Park; the renovation of Carnegie Library into a Union Pacific Museum; landing Iowa's largest coal-fired power plant when MidAmerican Energy Co. built a $1.2 billion plant in 2003; raising $1.15 million for improvements to Bayliss Park; and attracting Google. In 2011, Hanafan led the city through the Missouri River flood.
Hanafan did something else, too, over his quarter century in office. Council Bluffs leaders say he helped give the city a new self-image, one not overpowered by its bigger Nebraska neighbor.
Bob Mundt, president and CEO of the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, told The World-Herald's Andrew J. Nelson: “We don't have to be in the shadows of Omaha anymore. ... He kind of instilled that can-do attitude.”
The “mayor for life” certainly has earned the right to put his feet up. But Hanafan says he plans to remain involved in the community where he was born and raised — and where the high school principal didn't have a lot of hope for this Thomas Jefferson student.
“I was kind of a wild kid in high school,” Hanafan told a World-Herald reporter back in 1988. “I remember the principal saying I would never go anywhere in life. I wonder what he would think now.”
Looking around Council Bluffs today, there's no doubt he would be happy to admit his mistake.