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Duluth mayor says he's leaning against running for third term

Duluth Mayor Don Ness, seen here at a news conference celebrating the progress of a downtown development project in September 2012, says he's not sure if he'll run for a third term in 2015. (2012 file / News Tribune)1 / 2
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Duluth Mayor Don Ness said Thursday that a new mayor with a fresh perspective and different skills could be good for the city.

That belief, he said, is weighing into his decision-making about running for a third term in 2015.

“I haven’t made a final decision and I won’t make a final decision until later in the year,” he told the News Tribune. “But I wanted my friends and supporters to understand how I’m approaching the decision.”

Ness on Thursday wrote on his Facebook page some of his thoughts related to running for re-election. The popular mayor, who was first elected in 2007 from a primary field of 12 and then ran unopposed in 2011, often takes to social media to communicate with constituents.

“Turnover in the mayor’s office is a healthy thing,” Ness wrote on his Facebook page. “If you do it right, it’s not a job designed for longevity — you get stuff done and you get out of the way. I have to admit, that’s the way I am leaning these days, but it’s really hard to let go.”

Online supporters overwhelmingly encouraged him to stay or seek higher political office.

Ness said he enjoys the projects he’s working on — including his vision for the St. Louis River corridor, reconstruction of Superior Street, housing and others that will take him well into 2016 — but he’s struggling with enthusiasm and patience for the political side of the job. He cited misinformation, cynicism and “council drama.”

One example of that could include a recently-launched citizen campaign to oust City Councilor Sharla Gardner.

Those frustrations, however, aren’t driving his decision.

“Those things ebb and flow and I’m hopeful that’ll improve,” he said.

City Council President Linda Krug said she hopes Ness runs for re-election, citing work he’s undertaken — such as the St. Louis River project — which needs another term to complete.

“I also understand how it’s hard work being an elected official,” she said. “Everybody is a critic.”

When Ness first took office people were uncertain about him, she said, but six years later “he’s really turned the city around in terms of how we Duluthians think about our city and how other people think about our city.”

Governments continue on, she said, “but he will certainly be a hard act to follow.”

Ness has done much for the city’s growth and development, said Maurices President George Goldfarb, noting the mayor’s support for the new Maurices Headquarters building on West Superior Street downtown, as well as various trail and Lakewalk projects.

“I would really hate to lose him and am hopeful we can convince him otherwise,” he said.

Ness said he isn’t interested in politics beyond the local level. He acknowledged he could be successful in running for higher office, but wasn’t sure if his approach would be effective in a “more cutthroat political environment.”

“I would never close that door and it’ll likely feel different when my kids are out of the house, but I think there is a good chance that this will be my last political office,” he said.

Choosing between the two options is exciting, said Ness, who recently earned a master’s degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica.

The second half of the decade is when he expects the city to hit its stride, he said, and “I would love to be mayor when that happens. … But a life focused on a new career, friends and more time for my family also sounds really appealing.”