Duluth council member Don Ness wins mayor's raceby Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio
The city of Duluth has a new mayor. City Council member Don Ness won the seat Tuesday by a narrow margin over Duluth businessman Charlie Bell. Voters also ousted almost half the City Council.
Duluth, Minn. — With 52 percent of the vote, Don Ness won the seat being vacated by current Mayor Herb Bergson. Ness's victory speech came late in the evening, after a voting machine malfunction forced a hand-count of the final precinct.
"Let's enjoy this night. Let's enjoy our success," Ness told the crowd. "But hold firmly in mind the reason why we went through the last eight months, and that's to make real tangible change for the city of Duluth."
Ness is talking about change in a city with a battered budget, and mayoral office that's at times been close to dysfunctional in its dealings with the City Council, which he served on for two terms.
The city of Duluth's obligation to pay its retired employees' health insurance will cast a dark shadow over the city budget, possibly for decades. It's one of the issues Ness promises to follow through.
"Let's keep in mind that the real celebration in Duluth will take place when we solve the retiree health crisis," Ness said. "When we pass a new modern zoning code, when we instill a new culture of service and innovation in city government, and most importantly when we establish civility and trust and cooperation as the main tenets in our community discussion."
Ness' narrow victory means almost half the people who voted supported Charlie Bell. Ness reached out to Bell and his backers.
"We have common goals in the city of Duluth. Whether you're a Bell supporter or a Ness supporter, what we want to do is create a better Duluth," said Ness, "and it's incumbent upon us to reach out and bring them into our camp to move Duluth forward."
Ness, 33, will take office with slightly less power than his predecessor. City voters approved two changes to the Duluth city charter, which take away a mayor's ability to fire either the city administrative officer or the city attorney without city council approval.
Ness will also have a different City Council to work with than the one he leaves, since all three incumbents on the ballot lost their bids for re-election.
"It is an opportunity for a different council to have a new relationship with a different mayor," says Brad Gagnon, who chairs the communications department at the College of St. Scholastica.
It might be that Duluth voters were demanding change in voting down all three council incumbents. But it might be more than that, according to Wy Spano, who directs the University of Minnesota, Duluth Center for Advocacy and Political Leadership. Spano says it might be an early indicator of a new political wind in America.
"I know I shouldn't be using these words," Spano says, "but the more liberal candidates tended to win. There were just enough, I think, instances around the state where I'm hearing that this has been happening again and again."
The Duluth mayor's office is considered nonpartisan. But Ness, a former campaign manager for U.S, Rep. Jim Oberstar, was clearly considered a Democrat, while many people considered Charlie Bell either a more conservative Democrat or even a Republican.
Duluth voters made another noteworthy statement Tuesday. Opponents to a school facilities plan had hoped to stack the district board with their candidates. They wanted to block the plan known as the Red Plan.
Under the Red Plan, a half dozen schools will close, others will be rehabilitated and some new school building will be constructed.
However, only two of the plan's opponents, former EPA researcher Gary Glass and current board member Tim Grover, won Tuesday. Their votes won't be enough to tip the balance away from the district's plan.
- Morning Edition, 11/07/2007, 7:24 a.m.