Tag Archives: mayor

October Duluth News Roundup

25 Oct

A quick tour of stuff that I’m following from afar in Duluth this month:

Latest Developments (Pun Intended)

The big news this week was of a new development planned at the corner of 21st Avenue East and London Road, a large apartment complex that caters to young professionals. Mixed-use apartments warm my urban planning heart, and it will be a welcome change for an otherwise rather bland, suburban-like stretch. Still, I doubt it will go up in its currently planned form: it seems awfully large for that spot, and the traffic in that area is already a bit stressed at times. I will also continue my grumbling about the boxy, cookie-cutter contemporary apartment buildings: is a little detail or nuance too much to ask for? (Perhaps I just spend too much time in Uptown Minneapolis these days, which is overflowing with such structures.) The last potential obstacle is the likely necessity of tax-increment financing to fund the thing, but I can certainly see it succeeding.

Between this new project and BlueStone, plus plans for the Lester Park Golf Course apparently working their way toward the sort of 18-holes-plus-new-houses compromise I’d hoped for, lots of the remaining developable urban space on the east side is being snapped up. Market forces (well, the market plus TIF) are clearly driving things here, though there’s some new stuff happening out west, too. The Lakewalk has been extended to Lincoln Park, and visioning events for the St. Louis River corridor are under way in earnest. There’s cause for a lot of excitement with all of this new development energy, though I’m sure there will be some clashes along the way, too.

The Mayoral Marathon Gets Under Way!

Let the succession fun begin! Northland News Center put out a long list of people who might join Howie Hanson as potential successors to Don Ness in next year’s election. It’s a very deep list, and is a who’s-who of Duluth politics. I’ll offer a handful of comments on most of them here:

Yvonne Prettner-Solon, should she enter the race, would be an obvious force to be reckoned with. The outgoing Lieutenant Governor would be the only person in the race with the status to escape Ness’s shadow. That hardly guarantees a win, and she will presumably have some re-connecting to do after four years in St. Paul. She will have to adjust to local-level administration, which is a different animal from her state legislature and governor’s mansion experience. Still, no one is better-positioned to harness the full power of the local DFL machine, if she does it right.

Among other DFLers, Emily Larson seems the best-positioned to pick up the Ness mantel. She’s similar to Ness in that she is fairly young and an upbeat, happy face for Duluth. She usually avoids controversial positions (for good or ill), and is a tireless worker. A vote for Larson would likely be a vote for continuity—and, given Ness’s success, that would put her among the frontrunners. West side state representative Erik Simonson, on the other hand, represents the traditional labor bastion of the DFL. His candidacy would test the staying power of labor in a city that is edging away from that old industrial identity, but he could also muster a broader coalition.

The list goes on. Roger Reinert has proven effective in the state senator, though I’m not sure he has the dynamism to surpass Prettner-Solon or Larson in a primary. Jennifer Julsrud is another prominent name who is playing coy so far; she has the potential to be a formidable politician, though she could perhaps use a bit more polishing on the City Council. Daniel Fanning joins Larson in the liberal optimist club, but does not have her elected experience, and someone coming straight out of Ness’s inner circle may be a bit too close for comfort. The same could be said for CAO Dave Montgomery, who is not a Duluth resident anyway. I’m not sure I see a road for Jeff Anderson out of this crowded field, either. There will be a lot of jockeying in the coming months.

Outside of the DFL, by far the most intriguing name is Chris Dahlberg. When Howie Hanson leapt into the race, I said there’s a serious opening for a west-side, fiscally conservative candidate that Hanson did not quite fill; Dahlberg might just be that candidate. The St. Louis County Commissioner, despite a lack of statewide exposure, came very close to sneaking in and stealing the Republican Party endorsement to run against Al Franken in this fall’s Senate race. His campaign for Senate was pretty much boilerplate conservatism, but that’s necessary to win a Republican primary; one would presume he knows he needs a bit more than that to win in Duluth. If he can manage a message that caters to Duluth’s particularities—a big if—he has a shot. Jim Stauber, on the other hand, is an also-ran at this point in his career.

It Wouldn’t Be a Duluth Update without Me Grumbling About the School Board

I don’t particularly feel like enduring the latest meeting, leaving me with two contradictory accounts. Jana Hollingsworth, who has covered these meetings with enviable detachment in the News Tribune, comes down pretty hard on Art Johnston for an exchange between him and HR Director Tim Sworsky. Harry Welty, on the other hand, puts all the blame on Sworsky for inciting the incident over Johnston’s marital status. I don’t see much room for anyone to claim moral high ground here. Whatever the merits, Johnston’s strong reaction only fuels the image his accusers would like to paint of him: a loose cannon, perhaps prone to irrational or even violent outbursts. Maybe that’s what Sworsky wanted when he picked at this scab, though in School Board affairs, I usually find it easier to suspect tone-deafness than genuine malice. Harry rails against the supposed lead witness against Ms. Bushey, but he seems to have already convicted this woman for an unrelated incident some ten years ago. (In general I enjoy reading Harry’s assessments of people, but once he’s formed an opinion on them, it seems like he’s unlikely to budge, no matter the evidence.) Meanwhile, the school district has yet to receive a single bill from the lawyer investigating Johnston’s alleged abuses. The saga goes on.

In case the ten billion TV attack ads relentlessly insulting your intelligence weren’t enough to remind you, we do have an election in just over a week. State and national elections are not my primary focus on here, so I won’t be writing about them half as much as I did about local ones last year. (For the most part, I endorse analysis coming from Aaron Brown.) I will, however, venture to explain why I don’t pay excess attention to national politics, and will offer up a few comments once all the votes are in. Stay tuned.

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Howie Hanson and the End of Boring

24 Sep

Well, we have a race. I didn’t really want to write about it, largely out of protest over the excruciating length of political campaigns launched fourteen months ahead of the election, but a few people have goaded me into it. For the first time in many years, there will be a politician in Duluth opposed to the current administration who aspires to something more than a protest vote.

City Councilor and local blogger Howie Hanson has chosen to go in for the race for mayor of Duluth, mounting a pseudo-challenge to incumbent Don Ness, Duluth’s champion of boring government. Ness, of course, hasn’t decided whether he’ll run again yet, and was put in an awkward position by Hanson’s direct challenge to him. (Sort of. Despite coming out guns blazing, Hanson also gave Ness plenty of credit, and admitted he would be difficult to defeat.) In response, Ness stuck to his guns and kept to his original decision-making timeline, while also saying he was ready for a debate. The entire drama played out on Facebook comment boxes, prompting the expected sniping and grumbling and misunderstanding and so on and so forth. (I know, I know, it’s hypocritical for a blogger to gripe about the rise of social media. Deal with it.)

Cards on the table: I have never been a very large fan of Hanson’s work, a sentiment that goes back to a kerfuffle some five years ago on some of his writings about local hockey. (There was a time when his name was something of a punch line in local hockey circles, though this might have faded some since he abandoned opinion writing about hockey after these incidents.) It’s nothing personal, and I try to maintain a strict division of hockey and state in my thinking. By and large, Hanson’s heart is in the right place. He’s trying to be a voice for citizens in Duluth who aren’t thrilled with aspects of the Ness Regime, and I’m all for principled opposition.

That stance is a total about-face from where he was a year ago—see the end of this post for some critical comments about his predecessor for not being on the same page as Ness—but I think that’s a genuine conversion that he’s gone through in his first year on the Council, and as he’s learned more about local government. He may not be the smoothest operator, but there’s a political vacuum that he’s in a great position to fill, and he’s given himself enough time that he could, theoretically, pull it all together. On paper, a west-sider with deep stakes in the community who relies on fiscal restraint and common sense sounds like a serious contender.

Hanson, however, has done little to suggest he will be able to seize that mantel. Flexibility and common sense are good things to a degree, but with Hanson, the underlying philosophy just seems formless. He is quick to come up with new proposals, which he paints as outside-the-box thinking, but many of them are so poorly vetted that they are difficult to take seriously. Above all, he has just seemed more ill-prepared to govern than any other city councilor in recent memory, with a glaring lack of understanding of how things work in city government. That isn’t all bad—his resistance to bureaucracy-speak is sometimes an asset—but any politician put in charge of an executive department needs to know how to speak this language, otherwise the whole enterprise will fall apart. He has a folksy sort of charm, though he also has some blustering bravado that comes out in spurts, only to be quickly covered up when he realizes he’s rubbed someone the wrong way. It could be a winning combination in the hands of a tactful politician. All of the evidence up to and including this flap over his announcement suggests that Hanson is not one right now.

He has a lot of time, though, so I won’t dismiss him out of hand. We’re going to have a painfully long campaign ahead of us, and if Ness does indeed run, we may have our field set a year in advance. If he doesn’t, Hanson has probably forced the other possible successors to make up their minds soon. (I’ve heard names, but I won’t speculate publicly.) Hanson will be a long shot even if he doesn’t have to face Ness—a near shoo-in for re-election if he runs—but with enough confusion among the people aiming to capture the Ness coalition, he might be able to make things interesting.

Boring government was fun while it lasted. With Hanson in the field, it certainly won’t be that.