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Kerry Camp Probes Vilsack's Background

Aides to presidential candidate John Kerry (search) have asked for hundreds of newspaper columns written by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (search), one of the Democrats whose backgrounds are being checked as Kerry ponders a running mate.

Vilsack wrote the weekly "Mayor's Moments" column for the Mt. Pleasant News from 1987 to 1992. He became mayor of the southeastern Iowa town of 8,700 people after a gunman opened fire during a city council meeting in 1986, killing Mayor Ed King and wounding two others.

Kerry is expected to announce his choice for vice president before the Democratic National Convention, scheduled July 26-29 in Boston. Several Democratic officials familiar with the selection process have told The Associated Press that background checks have been made for Vilsack, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina and others they would not identify.

A former trial lawyer who was elected governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002, Vilsack was considered by some to be a policy wonk as mayor, one who liked to explain the city's challenges to its citizens. The newspaper column urged people to participate in government, to appreciate the arts, and to recycle more often.

"The city has a very important and very expensive decision to make in the very near future about garbage," begins a column from 1990.

In it, Vilsack seeks public opinion on a proposal to charge residents for each bag of garbage the city picked up instead of a flat fee. He wrote that the fee system, in place to this day, would encourage citizens to recycle, "which saves money and it saves the environment."

In another column from that year, Vilsack explains to young couples how they can afford to become homeowners. "You might be better off being willing to accept a lot less today with a smaller home and wait awhile before moving up to a larger home," he advised. "My parents used to tell me that inch by inch life is a cinch but yard by yard life is hard."

The Kerry campaign sought copies of the public writings of Vilsack and his wife, Christie, said James Sisco, a Mount Pleasant retiree who is active in local Democratic politics.

"They wanted everything that he wrote," Sisco said. "I went through microfilm until I was bleary-eyed and did that."

Sisco described the columns as "studious reflections ... his take on opportunities that the city had and how to be careful with the public trust."

Many background documents on Vilsack, including financial records and his voting record as a state senator from 1993 to 1998, were compiled during his campaigns for governor.

Vilsack aides declined to speak about the vetting process, referring questions to Kerry. "It's a personal decision he's making and he'll announce it in time," Kerry spokeswoman Allison Dobson said.