Welcome to the neighborhood - Political parties open next-door offices

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
In close quarters, the Plymouth County Democrats (right) and Republicans (left) have opened up their local office headquarters in downtown buildings next door to each other. In fact, the two buildings are actually connected by a doorway inside, which is temporarily blocked by a makeshift wall.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?

The local headquarters for the Republican and Democrat parties couldn't get much nearer to each other.

The two offices are not only on the same block, they share a wall in downtown Le Mars.

County Democrats and Republicans say it just worked out this way.

The connected buildings were formerly occupied by Perkins Office Solutions, which moved across the street this year, leaving two open office spaces in a pretty packed downtown.

"When Perkins moved and those two slots were opened, we kind of figured it might happen," said county Democratic Chairman Jon Neunaber, of Akron.

The Democrat office opened at 34 Central Ave. N.E. on Sept. 27, the first day of absentee voting, Neunaber said.

The Republican office opened a few days later at 36 Central Ave. N.E. on Oct. 3, according to county Republican Chairman Darin Raymond.

From the start, volunteers at the two parties' offices have gotten along just fine, Raymond said.

"When we were all down there setting up they were happy to loan us a ladder to fix a light and we were happy to help them with whatever they needed," he said.

The buildings are owned by local businessman John Koley.

"So far, so good," Koley said. "Everything's been amiable."

Koley said, in past years, he's let the parties know of buildings available downtown.

"It just happened the two of them were side by side this year," he said. "It'll be interesting as we get closer to the election."

There was actually a double-wide doorway connecting the two buildings through their shared wall prior to this, he said.

Mark Sturgeon, a Democrat volunteer, installed a makeshift wall to separate the two, Koley said.

"He found some extra wood in the basement and kind of 'MacGyvered' it all together and it looks real good," he said.

Koley was fine with the temporary renovation.

"I did encourage them to leave it open so you could have kind of an outlet mall kind of setting for our political campaigns," he said, chuckling. "I think ... they didn't want the other side listening in."

The improvised dividing wall will likely come down after the election is over. For now, it also serves as a bulletin board for signup sheets and more.

"And I think there's a big sign on one side so you can't even tell," Koley said.

Both the Republican and Democrat downtown offices will be abuzz leading up to the Nov. 6 General Election.

Along with the presidential race, area voters will also cast ballots in the race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, and Democrat Christie Vilsack for the 4th Congressional District in Iowa.

Volunteers are also keeping their eyes on Senate races across Iowa and the nation.

Large red, white and blue signs for major races hang in the windows and on the walls of the two Le Mars offices, grappling for attention from the passersby.

Posters featuring slogans like "Believe in America," "Forward," "Sign up" and "Vote" plaster the two offices' walls.

Volunteers furnished the empty offices with furniture they own or borrowed -- a couch, some tables and chairs, a refrigerator.

"Everybody chipped in a little bit," Neunaber said.

Raymond said the Republicans use the downtown office for public access.

"People can pick up free yard signs, stop in and visit, pick up material about candidates, have a cup of coffee," he said.

Republican Vice Chairman Don Kass, of Remsen, said the office will be a central hub as Election Day gets closer.

"It's a place for gatherings," he said. "If people want to volunteer for some type of service, we would be happy to have people help us out there, too."

The office will host committee meetings leading up to election, Raymond said.

Neunaber said the Democrats use the downtown building as a staging area for phone calls and canvass walks.

Election information and materials such as signs and bumper stickers are also available there, he said.

"And we use it to meet to make plans for the coming days," he said. "We also have our central committee meeting there."

The Democrat office will be open as often as there is someone there to staff it, Neunaber said.

"I'll be there more often than not," he said. "Six out of the past eight days I've been there."

There won't be set hours, he said.

"If someone's there, we're going to put the sign up and say, 'open, come in," Neunaber said.

On election night, the office will be a hopping place, he said.

And if there's reason to celebrate once the poll results come in, that's where the party will be, Neunaber said.

The Republican office will be open Wednesdays 6-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, Raymond said.

On election night, Republicans will likely gather at the Plymouth County Courthouse, he said.

"Based on tradition, we've always congregated at courthouse as all the results come in," he explained.

Neunaber said being next door to the Republicans is interesting, although he's not sure if it brings any extra advantages.

"I guess we can take a look through the windows every now and then and see if there's any activity," he said, chuckling.

So far, the two parties have been good neighbors, he said.

"We're civil," Neunaber said.

Raymond noted the irony of the Democrat office being in the building on the right and the Republicans in the building on the left -- contrary to the parties' political leaning.

People from the two parties do get along, he said.

"It comes down to philosophical differences on election day, but within our community, all these folks live and work here, and we all have the same goals in our community," Raymond said. "We just have a difference of opinion about how we're going to get there."

Koley said being the landlord of downtown buildings has been a lot more interesting than he ever dreamt it would be.

Once the election is over, the current political offices will be available for rent -- and Koley's had some interest, ranging from a 24-hour diner to a second-hand shop to a Christian store.

In the meantime, he's enjoying the unique situation of having the political offices next door to each other.

When the temporary wall went up between the buildings, more than a few jokes circulated about parties "putting up walls" and not having an "open door" policy, he said, chuckling.

It's a bit of a friendly rivalry, Koley said, adding that people in Le Mars usually show great respect for each other's opinions.

"That kind of shows in having the two right side by side," he said.

And the next-door Republican and Democrat offices have an added bonus, Koley added with a laugh.

"It makes it convenient for the undecided," he said.

Le Mars political offices:

Democrat office

34 Central Ave. N.E.

Phone: 541-4007

Hours: When staffed

Republican office

36 Central Ave. N.E.

No phone number

Hours: Weds. 6-9 p.m.

Sat. 9 a.m. to noon

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