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The perks of elected office in Mason City: Urdahl at the trough 25 years and counting

Editorial by Matt Marquardt –

In a series of editorials, I will lay out how several of our elected City Hall and County officials have, in my opinion, abused their office.

I began yesterday with an editorial on Mason City Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, the town bully of River City.

However, many would argue that Cerro Gordo County Supervisor Jay Urdahl has been the fattest of the fat cats in public office in North Iowa.

Jay Urdahl – a Democrat – has gotten fat at taxpayer’s expense, while shamelessly exploiting a retired, well-connected, wealthy North Iowa Republican, who Jay convinces to shake his money tree for him at regular intervals.

Cerro Gordo County Supervisor Jay Urdahl sampling his soup from another free lunch.  North Iowa has treated Jay Urdahl very, very well.
Cerro Gordo County Supervisor Jay Urdahl sampling his soup from another free lunch. North Iowa has treated Jay Urdahl very, very well.

Although Urdahl, who has held office since January of 1989, is unquestionably the worst offender of all those in elective office representing Mason City, NIT chose to list him second. That’s because whenever his name is brought up, the words that always come to mind are: Number Two.

Jay has been all out for Jay since his first race, back when Ronald Reagan was President. That year, locals here gave him little chance of winning. He was suspected of having aided and abetted his late father’s income tax fraud, which resulted in the elder Urdahl being convicted in federal court. Though Jay wasn’t charged, the Urdahl name is still tainted in Mason City, with a lot of locals who were stiffed financially by members of the Urdahl family still angry. Jay Urdahl had also pleaded guilty to a DUI, which took place just a few years before he ran for office. Also weighing against him was the reality that nobody who had any real money was in Urdahl’s corner, and he’d never before run for anything. Many Democrats around here thought his seeking public office was just a bad joke. But the joke ever since then has been on us, those who keep re-electing him.

His first opponent was a respected member of the Cerro Gordo county road maintenance crew named Kenny Moore. Moore was an honest, working-class, pro-life candidate, who had the backing of voters from both political parties. But Urdahl somehow convinced a well-connected, wealthy, local Republican leader, Dr. Gary Blodgett, to support his candidacy. The result was that Jay had in his campaign account a record amount of money to
spend against Kenny Moore. No small number of local Democrats have viewed Urdahl as nothing more than a Republican “errand boy” ever since.

No one currently in public office, in either local or county or even state government, of either political party, has benefited from more free trips to Washington, DC, than Jay Urdahl. Not only are these costly trips a waste of time and money, but they’re essentially a taxpayer-funded, four or five-day party for those lucky enough to find suckers (that would be us taxpayers) to stick the bills with. These trips were planned and funded by county and city government, and by organizations such as the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of County Officials.

Urdahl: Public servant, or servant of himself?
Urdahl: Public servant, or servant of himself?

Every time Urdahl is up for re-election, he shamelessly goes back to his chief benefactor Dr. Blodgett, for more money. Not only has Blodgett contributed generously to Urdahl’s races, but at Jay’s request, he has raised him nearly $40,000 over the last seven elections. The latest reports (available online) show that Urdahl has $17,144.97 in his campaign account. Most of the names of his largest contributors are also known friends of, and financial supporters of Gary Blodgett’s five races to represent Mason City in the Iowa Legislature, where he served as Assistant Majority Leader, and never lost an election. Urdahl’s campaign committee currently has three separate accounts, all of them at the North Iowa Community Credit Union. One of the accounts is a checking account, another is a C.D. (Certificate of Deposit) account, and yet account another is for savings.

In the last election cycle, between the fall of 2011 and the summer of 2012, Gary Blodgett raised Urdahl nearly $11,000 of the $21,038.19 reported in Jay’s campaign account on July 17, 2012. A semi-retired Mason City businessman who knows Urdahl, and who has known Blodgett for over 45 years, had this to say: “I strongly disagree with Gary Blodgett’s right-wing views, but I like and respect Gary, whose motives for going into politics were pure. He isn’t dishonest. But … Jay? The guy doesn’t give a damn about anybody but himself. He’s only in politics for the money. It’s such a shame he’s pulled the wool over the eyes of all these voters over so many years. The mere mention of his name just makes me sick to my stomach.”

Once in office, Urdahl managed to get himself, in an unprecedented move, appointed to the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Board, in a voting capacity, instead of the ex-officio position in which previous Supervisors had served. It’s also well-known at the Courthouse that Jay is always the de facto chairman of the Board of Supervisors, no matter who actually holds the rotating title at any given time. Other supervisors always defer to Urdahl, because for the better part of three decades, he’s learned to promote himself and his career – at OUR expense.

A local Democratic Party activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NIT how this has gone down with her, and many other area Democrats. “Jay’s out for Jay. Period. He runs to his sugar daddy Gary Blodgett when he wants the big bucks. Most of the big names on Urdahl’s financial reports wouldn’t even give him the time of day, much less any money, without old doc shaking his money tree for him. Jay’s found a way to make big money, at least by his standards, by looking out for the wealthiest people in the county. Some Democrat he is, huh?”

According to reports Urdahl filed with the Iowa Ethics Commission, he even paid himself $31.49 for “unitemized expenditures” from his campaign account on October 30, 2012. Prior to that, Urdahl paid himself $289.02 on May 23, 2012, for what he says was a reimbursement for various expenses he claimed he paid out of pocket. One wonders why, with three campaign accounts, including a checking account, any candidate would need to make any out-of-pocket expenditures for his campaign.

Who, me?
Who, me?

Urdahl is also regarded as a tightwad of the worst sort. A Courthouse employee, also speaking anonymously, told NIT that, “Jay wouldn’t give you the steam off his piss. Being a Supervisor provides him with a pathway to hang with people who would otherwise only know him when he delivers a UPS box to their house. He constantly brags about how he gets people like Tel Pappajohn, and the Blodgett’s, to buy him lunch. The man just lives for freebies, courtesy of either tax money, or from his rich friends. Believe me, Jay’s creaming this thing six ways from Sunday.”

Urdahl has also been known to misuse, and abuse, the access and power that his position affords him. In 2010, Chris Watts enjoyed the support of 3,000+ citizens who signed his position to force a county-wide referendum to expand the number of county Supervisors, from three to five. The proposal had wide-ranging support, including that of the-then editor of the Globe-Gazette, Joe Buttweiler, several lawyers, and political activists from both parties. Seeing the threat to his power base, Urdahl once again ran to Gary Blodgett.

For the record, respects Dr. Blodgett as an honest, retired politician who – unlike Jay Urdahl – never went into politics for the money. To this day, Gary Blodgett is a dedicated and effective advocate of his brand of conservative Republican principles, who backs up his beliefs with his own time, money, and effort. Quite unlike Jay Urdahl, Blodgett has also contributed generously to many charitable organizations, which is commendable. But we at NIT just think it’s unfortunate that Gary Blodgett has been so frequently willing to come to the financial and political rescue of Jay Urdahl.

After Blodgett addressed the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce in opposition to the plan, and he raised nearly $12,000 from about 150 donors in only a matter of a few days, Watts felt compelled to pull the plug, and, frustrated, he withdrew the petition. Jay had won again, courtesy of his respected benefactor.

Urdahl also pads his nest by resurrecting Tom Jolas and helping place Jolas on the Compensation Board. In this capacity, Jolas looks out for Urdahl and Jay’s cronies, recommending pay raises even as taxpayers who employ Urdahl go without any raise, if they’re lucky enough to even still have a job. After nearly 25 years of helping himself to our money, Jay Urdahl has found ways to not only preserve his cushy job, but also to keep his gravy train going at full speed, and he uses our money to do it. Also on his Jay’s compensation board is Tim LaPointe, a local lawyer who is also the chairperson of Jay’s campaign committee. Lapointe was specifically appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and not other county officials, such as the Treasurer, or other officers, who by law are allowed to make such appointments.  Also on the compensation Board is John Stone, who is chairman of the Cerro Gordo County Democratic Party, to which Urdahl belongs.

Just as Urdahl ran to Blodgett to raise funds and public opposition to defeat the proposed expansion of the Board of Supervisors in 2010, Jay also leaned on his longtime benefactor to make sure that Chris Watts would lose to Supervisor Phil Dougherty, AKA Urdahl’s own rubber stamp at the Courthouse. Fearing that Watts would beat his stooge, Urdahl persuaded Dr. Blodgett to pay for mailings which featured him endorsing Dougherty. Thousands and thousands of letters, and brochures, soon filled the mailboxes of every registered Republican in the part of Cerro Gordo county that Dougherty and Watts were battling to represent.

In the end, Dougherty edged Watts out, with the crucial votes coming from Republicans who were the deciding factor in that race.

NIT’s celebrated columnist Peter Children correctly ascribed to Urdahl to the term, “parasite” in a recent Editorial. No word in the English language more aptly describes Jay Urdahl and what he does than “parasite”. Webster’s Dictionary defines a parasite as “a noun”, which is “an organism, or something which lives in dependence on something else, for its existence, without making a useful or adequate return.” When I looked up this word, I halfway expected to find a picture of Jay Urdahl alongside the definition.

I honestly don’t know whether or not termites have an organization that advocates for them, or protects them. But these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did have one. But if I were a termite, I’d be very offended at anyone who likened me to Jay Urdahl.

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