If you live on the east side of Duluth, you may have seen a few lawn signs peeking out of snowbanks, even though the November elections are long since over. No, these people are not being lazy in removing their signs; we have an election coming up! The passing of 2nd District Commissioner Steve O’Neil threw the St. Louis County Board into limbo, and the timeline for an election to fill his seat has left us with a special election on January 14.
There was a primary back in November, which narrowed the field down to two candidates. They are familiar faces to anyone who knows Duluth politics: current Second District City Councilor Patrick Boyle and recently retired At-Large Councilor Jim Stauber. Boyle won the primary by a decent margin, while Stauber barely scraped by Scott Keenan for the second spot, but given the odd timing of the election and the likely challenges in turning out voters in mid-January, nothing is a given here.
Because of those odd dynamics and the well-established reputations of each of the candidates, this has become as clear a right-versus-left race as one can have in a local, nonpartisan election. With turnout likely to stay low, both sides appear to have focused their attention on turning out the base, each relying on their established ties in the community.
Boyle is a reliably liberal Councilor who was just elected to his second term, and is the O’Neil family’s favored candidate to win the seat once held by the longtime liberal champion. His campaign emphasizes his close ties with many local politicians, and claims he will work with them to improve roads and bring more quality jobs to the area.
Stauber, on the other hand, is a proud conservative, and has made it his priority to hold the line on taxes. His campaign also emphasizes his long years of service to Duluth, and his intimate knowledge of local government. As a Councilor, Stauber was often a rather lonely voice crying for fiscal restraint and was a frequent teller of cautionary tales; while history did sometimes prove him right, he was often powerless to shape the Council’s agenda in any serious way. As a County Commissioner, it would be a different story: the Board extends far beyond Duluth and into more conservative, rural areas of St. Louis County, and Stauber would actually be in the majority if elected.
Indeed, Boyle’s campaign has sought to play off of voters’ worries about growing conservative influence in St. Louis County, and given the well-known proclivities of a majority of east side voters, that is a sensible play. As a liberal on this side of this city, he should be able to win if he can turn out his base. Stauber, however, has been able to buck that trend throughout his successful political career, and enjoys a solid base of support as well. Both are well-qualified for the job; in the end, this race will boil down to connections and political leanings. It should be a good race.
Here are links to the candidates’ websites:
Here is a map of the St. Louis County districts. (Scroll down to get a close-up of Duluth.)
If you live in the 2nd District, here’s the city’s guide to finding your polling place. Get out and vote!