I have a photo in my home taken several years ago of me and then-Councilman Alex Kuhn having cups of coffee together at the Jitters coffee shop in Mason City.
I was reminded of the photo Tuesday night when the Mason City Council heard details of a sculpture crafted in honor of Kuhn that will be placed on the grounds of the Mason City Public Library.
Kuhn was 34 and was serving his second term on the City Council at the time of his death in 2016. The photo I have and the sculpture are important to me because they represent what he was in life.
The photo shows the two of us sitting across from one another in the coffee shop. Alex is leaning forward as if to emphasize a point. To me, it is a perfect example of his penchant for coming up with new ideas, for his enthusiasm, for his power of persuasion and for his ability to engage with others, including the press.
Alex had a huge ego, which I totally understand, because he was passionate about what he believed in and, frankly, he believed in himself, his ideas and his ideals. And so it was that many a late Tuesday night, after the council meetings were over, Alex would call me at home, ask my assessment of the meeting and to make sure I got all his “quotes” correctly.
He had “Kennedy hair,” an infectious smile and an enjoyment in tackling complex issues. In a day and age when many elected officials depend on information on their laptops, it was not unusual for Alex to come to council meetings with file folders full of materials he had collected on the subject at hand.
He came from a family with political roots. His father Mark is a Floyd County supervisor and former member of the State Legislature. Many people who watched Alex in action could picture him as having a political career well beyond the Mason City Council. Sometimes after council meetings, I would kid Alex and say, “Which constituency were you playing to tonight, this one or your next one?” And we would both laugh.
I never held it against him that he was a die-hard New York Yankee fan.
The sculpture depicts Alex reading to his two sons, emblematic of one of his pastimes of being a volunteer reader in Mason City schools. What strikes me about the sculpture is in addition to the bench in which the Alex figure is sitting with his kids, there are empty benches in which citizens can come and sit. It is a reminder that in Alex’s life, there was always room for more people to join in the conversation.
When I look at the photo of the two of us in conversation with each other, I am also reminded of something his father told me not long after Alex’s death. It was an email I sent to Alex and was the last email he received in his life. It said: “Alex – Long time, no hear. Call me.”
I said at the time of his death that he was “an icon of decency in an increasingly indecent world” and that certainly hasn’t changed.
When the sculpture is put in place, I will be one of the people who takes a seat there and wonders “what might have been.”