Duluth City Council Elections 2013: A Patient Primary Primer

8 Sep

With primary elections on Tuesday, here’s part two in my Duluth election series. See the notes on the School Board here.

For my coverage of City Council meetings over the past few months, click here.

Figure out where to vote, and which races you’re voting for, here | Map

This is what your ballot will look like. 

The Duluth City Council is in a different universe from the School Board. There are no hugely contentious issues before it, and the current edition appears to have a pretty good rapport. There is no rush to throw the bums out here, though we do have two open at-large seats, following the retirements of Councilors Jim Stauber and Dan Hartman. The entire primary will only eliminate one candidate.

At-Large

Five people are competing for four spots in the general election. Once again, I list candidates in my rough order of preference.

Zack Filipovich, a recent University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate, appears to have one of the better-organized campaigns out there. He’s been endorsed by the DFL, but his campaign also focuses on his experience in finance and economic development, which leads one to hope he’ll mind the checkbook better than some other well-intentioned but not-overly-financially-savvy left-leaning Duluthians. Councilor Hartman’s retirement also leaves the Council with a relative lack of young people, and Filipovich fills that niche. That’s an important thing to have, especially in a city that makes a big deal out of attracting and retaining young people. His platform (website here) could use more specifics, but in a field where no one really blows me away, he’s at the top of the ballot for now.

Barb Russ is probably the most experienced candidate in the field, and probably has the strongest campaign going, with a concise but clear agenda and lawn signs everywhere. Just as Rosie Loeffler-Kemp’s résumé just about screams “school board member,” Russ’s bellows “city councilor.” She is a very safe and predictable choice, and while she may not be wildly inspirational, she should be an effective Councilor. Website here

Ryan Stauber is the son of outgoing Councilor Jim Stauber, and his emphasis on “balance” suggests his views are fairly similar to his father’s. Like Filipovich, he’s young, and has likewise demonstrated a clear commitment to his city. Given the need for some balance and debate, I was very tempted to put Stauber in one of the top two slots. With the retirement of his father and Councilor Krause, two of the three more-or-less fiscally “conservative” voices on the Council will be gone, and I worry that simply supporting the two DFL-endorsed candidates may contribute to City Council groupthink. Victories by Filipovich and Russ would effectively marginalize the opposition on the Council, and leave it in the sole hands of Councilor Jay Fosle—and, given Councilor Fosle’s tendency to be a bit haphazard in his criticisms, I’m not sure that role suits him. Duluth’s recent experience with a lonely voice standing up to the rest of a board (coughArtJohnstoncough) has not been pretty.

Still, I need more than “balance” as a reason to support someone, and Stauber hasn’t quite inspired me. His main point of emphasis, city infrastructure, is also Russ’s, and other than a vague mention of stronger law enforcement (which is part of his background), there isn’t much here. If he goes through to the general election, I’ll certainly give him a second look. Unsolicited web site advice: putting childhood awards and volunteer experiences (ie. some governor’s award won in middle school, marathon volunteering) on your résumé just makes it look like you’re padding it. There is potential here, but the product isn’t quite polished enough yet.

A fourth candidate, Ray “Skip” Sandman, emphasizes his Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) roots on his website, and aims to bring diversity to the Council. Considering the recent controversy over an eagle staff and lack of racial minorities on the Council, this is all well and good; the problem is, I don’t see a whole lot of meat on the bones here. Other than a vague mention of living wage jobs, he doesn’t say what else he’ll do. Tell us more, Ray! Website here

The final candidate is Ray Whitledge, whose use of the Statue of Liberty on his campaign signs underlines his staunch libertarian views. His Facebook page (I couldn’t find a website) straight-up says he thinks taxation is robbery. To his credit, he sounds like he really practices what he preaches, and will only accept tiny amounts of voluntarily-donated pay if he serves on the Council. However, 99% of his proposals probably won’t fly, leaving him in that dreaded “lonely voice” category I worried about in my comment on Councilor Fosle above. His emphasis on ideology over community leads me to doubt he’ll be able to work with his fellow Councilors in a constructive way. I’m somewhat intrigued to see what a town governed by libertarians would look like, but I don’t want Duluth to be the guinea pig—nor is it realistic to expect that here, given Duluth’s deep left-leaning roots. This city is what it is, and the best of the candidates here accept that, even if they disagree on everything else.

District 2

Councilor Patrick Boyle is running unopposed, so there’s no intrigue here…yet, at least. Boyle has thrown his name in for the special election to replace late County Commissioner Steve O’Neil, and should he win that race in February, he will need a replacement. Stay tuned.

District 4

With Garry Krause’s surprise retirement this week, Howie Hanson is now running unopposed in this race. I had plenty to say about Mr. Hanson on Friday. Even for people somewhat more sympathetic to Mr. Hanson than I am, it is unfortunate he will not face a challenger who might at least force him to come up with some sort of platform. Instead, he will likely coast into the Council with his false charm and vague interest in the community on full blast. District 4 residents, if you have any ambition to enter local politics, now would be a great time for a write-in campaign.

The lack of competition in Districts 2 and 4 is, frankly, a bit disappointing. I suppose it might be a sign that people are fairly happy with the work the Council is doing—an understandable stance, given its relative efficiency and lack of drama of late—but a little debate here wouldn’t have hurt. It is what it is, though, and there are some diverse voices in the at-large race. Unfortunately, in my estimation, the candidates who venture away from the establishment are also the weaker candidates. I think there’s a lot to say about that, but I’ll hold off until after the primary, when we’ll have a better pulse on what the voters of Duluth are thinking.

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2 Responses to “Duluth City Council Elections 2013: A Patient Primary Primer”

  1. Scott Grindy (@sgrin20) September 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    The letter on Ryan Stauber’s website isn’t very good either. The paragraph that starts with “Our city is *literally* crumbling beneath our feet” (emphasis mine) turned me off entirely. And the video – leave the lipsyncing to the professionals!

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  1. Comments on Duluth Primary Election Results | A Patient Cycle - September 11, 2013

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