BUZZ Blog: Predicting the next few years in city politics
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
I was thinking of doing a best of the BUZZ as my final post for the blog, but then I realized: I don't have much best-of to tout (ba-dum-dum, ching). So why not just look ahead and predict what's going to happen in city politics, starting with an easy one:
* Mayor Don Ness won't run for Oberstar's seat.
Ok, several years down the line, he might one day run for that house seat, but take him at his word when he says he won't run when Oberstar retires. Why? For starters, he can't because he said he won't, and you can't go back on a promise like that. But I think he's said over and over that he won't do it for one simple reason:
* Ness will serve four terms as mayor.
Like or dislike the guy, you have to understand, he loves Duluth. He has said often that he has found the perfect job, and I think he wants to stay in that role for a very long time. He wants nothing more than to make this city as successful as it can be, and he believes the best way for him to do that is from his office on the fourth floor of city hall. Barring any major misteps, controversies or scandals, the mayor will serve at least three terms, if not four. He'll have a few challengers along the way, obviously. Such as:
* Jim Stauber will run against the mayor next year.
And you know what? The election results will surprise us.
* The mayor will win by 25 points.
That's surprising, because right now I think he'd beat just about everyone else by 30 to 40 points. Stauber can make some headway, though, by beating the mayor up on his administration's tax and rate increases and the ever unpopular street light fee, but that won't be nearly enough considering what the mayor can list as accomplishments over the last three years.
* Of the five city councilors up for re-election next year, all five will run again, and four of them will win.
That seems right to me. I don't think there's the dislike of incumbents that we saw three years ago. But who's the odd person out? I think with name recognition and union/party endorsements/money behind them, the two at large councilors, Jeff Anderson and Tony Cuneo, win re-election in a walk. That leaves the district councilors. In the fifth, I don't see Fosle losing -- he may not be blessed with a silver tongue, but he just seems to be the embodiment of the West Duluth, blue collar, conservative-leaning voter. He's your everyman in an everyman part of town.
That leaves the two most controversial members of the council, Todd Fedora and Sharla Gardner, and I'm waffling between which one doesn't get re-elected. I'm leaning toward Gardner because of the controversies that surround her, but she's in a very liberal district, and she has to be loved by the voters of Park Point for going to bat for them time and time again. Fedora, on the other hand, does have a target on his back, and can have a tendency to put his foot in his mouth. But it's a district that can lean conservative (this is the same district that's banned alcohol), and I think his message of "I've never voted to raise taxes, fees" can be a strong one. It worked for Stauber last year.
Maybe all five win re-election.
* Roger Reinert will be your next 8th district congressman
The race among democrats will come down to him and house majority leader Tony Sertich, and the political power of Duluth vs. the Iron Range. I say Duluth gets it together and flexes its political muscle behind a very savvy politician, and then Reinert mends fences and keeps the district blue.
* If Google doesn't put its fiber in the Twin Ports, some people will blame the Google movie
I'm not saying that would be the reality, but a perception. Because that movie was really, really bad. Ignore for a minute the acting or bad writing, the semi-racist overtones of the jive-talking black guy or the disapearing white indian, the all-white crowd shot, etc., or the strange moment of the mayor giving the kid a puppy. And just consider for a moment how Google was personified: as a person who knows seemingly every detail about a person just by looking at their face. In other words, Google knows WAY more about you than you're comfortable with. Didn't anybody involved with that movie take a step back and stop to think that Google is fighting that perception on a daily basis in regard to privacy invasions, and think they might take just a bit of umbrage to that representation?
* But Google's still coming to the Twin Ports
People from Google probably won't watch the movie anyway. You know what Google wants with its fiber initiative: a major success story. They want to take a small city in the middle of nowhere with a goofy name that's relatively economically depressed (certainly this city's income level has been stagnant, and we still have a higher poverty rate compared to the rest of the state) and transform it into a technology hub that revolutionizes the city and get all the credit for doing it. I can't think of a better city for that than Duluth.
Or maybe Topeka.
My above theory, however, does make me wonder if Duluth would have a better chance if our unemployment rate was higher. So let's start losing jobs people!
* The NorShor theater will be renovated and become the entertainment hub the mayor invisions.
But it will cost a few millions in tax dollars to do it before it's all said and done (and I'm not talking just state bonding money), and it will be years before it happens. Say, 2015 or so. That's the trade off, and sooner or later people will be willing to accept that. They probably already are.
* AFSCME will go on strike next year
The reality of the strike threat early this year was that the city and AFSCME weren't really that far apart on the contract. Now that a longer-term deal needs to be negotatied, the two sides are way, way apart, and there's been enough publicity on areas like overtime and city sick time that the administration won't back down on trying to revise that language. AFSCME will balk, and they'll strike. It wouldn't be popular, but AFSCME clearly cares little about the court of public opinion (which is the way a union should act -- care about their members first). But the city knows the public is on their side, and can back the union into a corner. The union might think it's only play to get the city to back off is a strike and shut select city services down.
* The NLX will get federal and state funding, will be built, and will connect train passengers from Duluth to Minneapolis.
I think Dan Erhart of the NLX rail alliance said it best: this is Jim Oberstar's train. So long as he's chairman of the transportation committee, he's going to push this through.
* And it will be a failure.
That's if it goes 79 mph to 90 mph and takes two hours, twenty minutes to make it from Duluth to Minneapolis, as train planners are now exploring (as a way to save money). Three years ago when then city councilor Reinert started touting the train (he said it would be built by the end of 2009, btw), I have to admit that as a city resident the thought of a high speed train to Minneapolis sounded exciting. If it was faster than the drive time down to Minneapolis, I'd probably take it a few times. But slowing it down so that I can drive to Minneapolis faster and still have a car when I get down there just makes no practical sense.
* The News Tribune will win several national investigative reporting awards over the next few years.
So maybe that's not really a prediction, but just wishful thinking.
And with that, I start my new gig next Monday and won't be blogging much any more. The week of June 14 I've lined up a few guest bloggers, and then I'm hoping incoming city reporter Peter Passi will carry the BUZZ torch.
Thanks, readers, for actually reading this blog and making this a great deal of fun over the last couple of years.