Working media in northern Minnesota means operating in the sphere of the Duluth TV market. Duluth, the largest northern Minnesota city, is the seat of the state’s largest geographic county, St. Louis. Politics in Duluth, though still dominated by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have nevertheless been contentious and sometimes hard to predict.
That’s less true this year as Tuesday’s city elections approach. With the exception of a tight race in the Fourth District, city council races have not drawn as much attention as they have in years past, mostly because popular Mayor Don Ness is running unopposed for re-election. District 3 and 5 councilors Sharla Gardner and Jay Fosle are also running unopposed, respectively.
The races of interest are the At Large council seats, where incumbents Jeff Anderson and Tony Cuneo did not seek re-election. (Anderson is running for Congress. Cuneo is focusing on professional opportunities). Incumbent Todd Fedora, one of the council conservatives, faces a challenge from DFL-backed Jennifer Julsrud. The special election to fill the 4th District seat is also a nip-and-tuck affair between appointed incumbent Jackie Halberg and former councilor Garry Krause. The school board contests also show some sparks of life.
Emily Larson, Linda Krug, Tim Riley and Chad Smith are seeking the two at-large seats. Larson and Krug have enjoyed overwhelming support from the DFL and should be considered heavy favorites. This contest will only produce news if one of them falters.
The Fedora/Julsrud race will be interesting, though I can’t say how it will go. I tend to think Fedora has some advantages here, though Julsrud has the backing of the DFL in a DFL town.
The Halberg/Krause race seems to be a true battle, Halberg aligning with the progressive majority on the council and Krause being more of a self-described independent, conservative-minded option. Both are running strong campaigns.
The more interesting aspect of Tuesday’s election is the city services referendum. Mayor Don Ness, an effective city leader who received a historic free pass in his race, is backing a ballot item that would fund city parks, libraries and other services otherwise slated for massive cuts.
The city budget is strained with the decline in local government aid precipitated by last year’s budget stalemate at the state legislature. This is a rare use of referendum to put a question of local government spending directly to voters. Whether it passes or not should rightly be perceived as direct feedback on the actions of the legislature. At this point it looks like a toss-up.
* All links in this story go to the Duluth News Tribune‘s election guide, which was well done.