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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Meet the candidates: Cedar Falls City Council

Two UNI Alums up for election in Ward 4

For this November’s Cedar Falls City Council elections, two UNI alums have begun campaigns to be elected to the open Ward 4 seat vacated by incumbent Simon Harding’s retirement. The two candidates include area financial advisor Gabe Groothuis and local attorney Aaron Hawbaker. Ward 4 consists of the northern areas of the UNI campus (including Dancer and Bender halls), much of the College Hill neighborhood, and private homes between University Avenue, Rainbow Drive, and Grand Avenue on the east side of Highway 58.

Gabe Groothius, a 2019 UNI alum, is running for Cedar Falls City Council.
Aaron Hawbaker, a 1991 UNI alum, is running for Cedar Falls City Council.
Aaron Hawbaker, a 1991 UNI alum, is running for Cedar Falls City Council.










Groothuis is a recent 2019 University of Northern Iowa graduate with degrees in organizational leadership and marketing. While at UNI, he participated in programs with the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and was the proprietor of a small business while enrolled as a student. He currently works at Thrivent Financial Group of Waterloo. Groothuis was born in Cedar Falls but grew up in Marion. Nevertheless, he returned to Cedar Falls to attend college and has stuck around since.

On the other side of the ballot, Hawbaker is a Des Moines-born but longtime Cedar Falls resident and former UNI graduate with the class of ’91. Hawbaker has a degree in Political Science and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa Law School. He is currently employed at the Black Hawk County Public Defender’s Office in Waterloo, and Hawbaker has served as the senior defender since 2010.

As election season has ramped up, the candidates have explained and reaffirmed their intentions and goals for running for the Cedar Falls City Council. Candidate Groothuis’s campaign is centered around three main principles: servant leadership, strategic planning and citizen’s voice. On the other hand, Hawbaker’s three main priorities if he were to be elected to the council include promoting and creating strong neighborhoods, economic development and collaboration/community building.

Both candidates expressed a hope to serve in a way that would benefit and grow the city positively if elected. Hawbaker expressed a desire to do as he was raised. 

“I want to give back to the community that has benefited me so greatly,” Groothuis stated. “The best is yet to come. Cedar Falls’ best days are ahead of it, and we are just getting started.”

As with most areas, the pandemic took a toll on the business climate of College Hill. Both candidates hope that the redevelopment of that area will begin to take shape within the next few years if elected to council. Hawbaker stated, “When I was here, College Hill was a one-stop-shop for everything. Downtown was developed very successfully, and the efforts and funding that was used should be replicated on the Hill.” Groothuis expressed a similar view. “There has to be a strategic partnership between the university, the city and the developers, as well as the residents who live there. College Hill is the front door of UNI, and we, as the city, need a vision and funding plan to get this figured out,” he said.

Young people could have a defining impact in this election if they were to vote on election day. Ward 4 has a large student population, and both candidates hope youth participation will occur in this election. Groothuis, who is a recent graduate of UNI, believes he has the pulse of students and can be an effective communicator to make sure their voices are and can be heard, “Where your voice will be heard the most will be in a local election, UNI students can have their voices heard by someone who really empathizes with them, as I was in your spot not too long ago.”

Hawbaker also believes that the youth of Ward 4 will play a huge and defining role in this election, “All politics are local. Even though some of you may only be a four-year resident, this election can impact the city during the time you are here, as well as affecting future students who will be here in the future.” Hawbaker stated, “Even if you don’t vote in this election, it should be the one in your town, as local elections are very important.”

As a contested race, these two candidates are meeting people, knocking on doors, and putting out yard signs to obtain the vote of the citizens of the 4th Ward. Hawbaker explained that experience is crucial and that he has gained it through his years of work in local government’s judicial and executive branches, “We all want what is good for the city. What I bring to the table is varied experience; I was in private (legal) practice for ten years. I’ve worked with banks, hospitals, businesses, as well as county government and courts. The communication skills that I have developed over the years, which I can tell you I did not have that understanding thirty years ago, have allowed me to learn what experience really is.”

Gabe Groothuis is the younger of the two candidates; he believes that his youth and fresh connections with UNI will help facilitate more robust relationships in the community, “I believe that I would connect better than my opponent with the students. I have siblings that are at UNI, I know current professors and administration.” Groothuis also stated regarding building community relationships, “While they say the young perspective is great when it comes time actually to listen, I don’t think they always want that diversity of opinion. If the students want someone more established, they have a very clear choice. If they want a younger perspective that can still be connected and has the finger on the pulse of the students, I’d be happy to meet and talk with them just like in this interview.”

These candidates will debate the issues to the public at Cedar Falls City Hall on Wednesday, Oct.18, at 7 p.m. All interested parties are welcome to attend. Also, both candidates encourage the public to learn more on their respective websites, and Groothuis and Hawbaker both encourage citizens and students to contact their campaigns with questions or concerns they may have. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, and early next year, Cedar Falls’ 4th Ward will have a new council member representing its borders.


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Grant Pedersen
Grant Pedersen, Staff Writer

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