Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack formally announces his campaign for president today, in the town that gave him his political start. Vilsack moved to his wife Christie?s hometown of Mount Pleasant after graduating from law school in 1975. He became a well-known attorney who was active in the community, even spearheading a fundraiser for a new athletic complex.
Mount Pleasant City Administrator Brent Schleisman says when the city?s mayor was shot to death by an irate citizen, residents urged Vilsack to run in 1987. “He put his name on the ballot,” Schleisman says, “and that started his political career.” Schliesman served as the Parks and Recreation director under Vilsack. Schleisman says Vilsack was a fast learner who provided a new focus to a city that was in mourning. He says Vilsack set in motion some infrastructure improvements for the community to focus on. He articulated well why they needed to be done, and got people’s support to have the government go ahead with a lot of the improvements made in those five years.
Schleisman says the improvements made to the city?s streets, parks, and police and fire departments, are still visible today. In 1992 Vilsack turned his attention to higher office and was elected to the state senate, then ran for governor and was elected in 1998. His former communications director, Joe Shannahan, says Vilsack was very hands-on. Sometimes, he reminisces, “We’d have fun stories about Governor Vilsack when we’d say ‘the Chief Staffer came into our meeting and made this decision for us.’ The Chief Staffer we were referring to, of course, was the governor.”
Shannahan says Vilsack had a “great” grasp of policy and the inner workings of the state government, and frequently was correct in those decisions. Shannahan says despite Vilsack?s penchant for policy, he can be personable guy. He likes to talk about music and sports, especially his passion for running. Shannahan says it?s that side Vilsack will have to show to the public to be a successful candidate for president. He’s “very smart, and he wants to delve into the issues more than most people,” Shannahan says. “But you know, he also has to convince people that he’s a decent human being.”
He says you can’t do that by just “thinking deep thoughts all the time — you have to actually spend time meeting people, liking people.” Shannahan says his advice for Vilsack?s campaign staff is to carve out time for the candidate to run. He says that way Vilsack can ponder policy in private, and focus his time with voters on the big picture.