City Election Results Signal Shift in Demographics, Attitude [OPINION]
The results of the city election on Tuesday (April 10) were something of a repudiation of the current state of local government.
The race for mayor and City Council Central District will be decided in a run-off on May 1 between the top two candidates in each case. But we know that young candidates did well. And on the whole it was a good night for forward-thinking people.
I hesitate to use the term progressives as it’s been turned into a pejorative in many circles but I would apply that concept to the victors in this case.
Let’s look at each race, starting with the two At-Large seats, which were decided without run-offs.
At-Large A: Former City Attorney Janet Brekke won decisively over former Sanford executive John Paulson, 56 to 44 percent. Brekke is a city government veteran but she’s also clearly a reformer. She’s has consistently said the City Charter is not being properly applied and has led to imbalance of power between the mayor and the council. She also knows how to achieve that, as she was involved in the application of the City Charter. Paulson generally didn’t suggest any sort of changes or policies.
At-Large B: Incumbent Christine Erickson handedly defeated newcomer Nick Weiland. Erickson was the only incumbent in a race this cycle and got through. That might be seen as supporting the status quo. Personally, I think she’s more open to ideas than others suggest. Yes, Nick was the younger and more expressly progressive candidate, with deep ties to the progressive issues, I don’t think his defeat reflects a repudiation of those principles in the city. Erickson was a strong incumbent with a loyal constituency who hasn’t done anything to turn them away. Also, she’s a young mother who reflects a lot of issues important to average families.
Central District: We’re done with this one yet. Art supply store owner and smart planning advocate Zach DeBoer and retired fireman and insurance salesman Curt Soehl nearly tied to make it through to the second round. DeBoer is clearly a forward-looking candidate with lots of good ideas. That’s not to say Soehl doesn’t. An interesting point here is that third-place went to Tom Hurlbert, also what I would consider a progressive in terms of city government and planning. The Central District has the most unique constituency with lots of different types of voters.
Mayor: First, Jolene at 39 and Paul at 40, were the youngest candidates in the race. Both have young families and both are business people with a technological edge. That’s remarkable on its face. None of what I would call traditional mayoral candidates made it through. Three former city councilors all went down. The best-financed candidate was a distant third. Now, demographics alone do not an analysis make, but it’s significant nonetheless.
Digging further into the backgrounds of the two remaining candidates, one might suggest that given their other political affiliations, this is a classic Republican v. Democrat, conservative v. progressive contest. I don’t think so. Yes, Paul has worked for Republican campaigns, most notably Sen. Mike Rounds. But that has little reflection on a mayoral election in my mind. There are certainly people who will vote that way.
But in my conversations with the two candidates, I find them both refreshingly open to new ideas and concepts. For instance -- on one of my personal favorite topics -- both understand that a growing city absolutely must have a vibrant mass transit system. They both understand the need and value of alternative transportation. They both grasp the idea that a successful city is open to people of all types, beliefs and affiliations. They both know that for a city to grow economically, it must provide a full range of recreation, education and business services.
This city changed last week, I think, for the better.
Governing is the hard part, we all know that, and people change in the face of reality of hard decisions. For now, though, there is reason for great optimism when the new mayor and council take over in May.
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