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Three of four incumbents re-elected to Duluth City Council

Zack Filipovich and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp laugh together during an election party at the Reef Bar in Duluth Tuesday evening. Both were re-elected to their city council and school board seats. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Zack Filipovich and Rosie Loeffler-Kemp laugh together during an election party at the Reef Bar in Duluth Tuesday evening. Both were re-elected to their city council and school board seats. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Three incumbent Duluth city councilors were returned to office for another term Tuesday, and one was unseated.

Those re-elected included At Large City Councilors Zack Filipovich and Barb Russ, and 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress.

Meanwhile, 4th District Councilor Howie Hanson was narrowly defeated by challenger Renee Van Nett.

4th District

Renee Van Nett reacts after being elected to the Duluth City Council 4th District. (Photo by Clint Austin)

This election marks Van Nett’s first bid for a City Council seat, but she’s no stranger to politics, having unsuccessfully run to serve on the Duluth School Board two years ago.

A 47-year-old employment liaison for Community Action Duluth, Van Nett serves as a member of the Duluth Civil Service Board. She founded a nonprofit called the Cross Cultural Alliance of Duluth, which works to strengthen the community by bringing people together. And she's on the board for the Damiano Center.

Van Nett garnered nearly 52 percent of the vote to Hanson’s 47-plus percent. Her margin of victory was just 116 votes, according to unofficial results.

She credits her victory to a focus on “traditional issues that people are worried about,” including public safety and roads.

“They want someone who’s accessible, someone they can call and talk to, someone who will address their needs. They want economic development. They want to be heard,” she said.

Van Nett is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and graduated from the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School after attending Duluth public schools in her early years. Van Nett went on to earn a bachelor's degree in organizational management and communication from Concordia College in St. Paul.

Hanson, a 62-year-old online publisher, casts himself as a fiscal conservative, voting against the 2016 property levy increase and a recent hike in city water rates.

The 4th District includes Duluth Heights, Piedmont Heights, Lincoln Park and part of West Duluth.

At Large

Filipovich proved to be the top vote-getter in the At Large council race, collecting 31.5 percent of all votes cast in the two-seat contest.

Barb RussRuss retained that second seat, edging out challenger Janet Kennedy by a margin of 23.6 percent to 21.8 percent. Finishing a close fourth was Rich Updegrove with 21.2 percent of the votes.

Filipovich became the youngest person ever to serve on the Duluth City Council when he was elected to an At Large seat four years ago. During his first term, the 27-year-old accountant was elected council president. He currently serves as secretary of the Duluth Economic Development Authority and formerly served as treasurer for the Duluth 1200 Fund.

Filipovich attributed his convincing victory to “my positive message about bringing good-paying jobs to Duluth, and talking to voters face to face individually on their doorsteps.”

He said he wants to follow through on his campaign pledge “to try to make an economy that works for all Duluthians.”

Russ, 68, just completed her first term on the council, where she also served as chairwoman of the planning and economic development committee and sits as a council representative on the Duluth Economic Development Authority, commonly known as DEDA. Prior to joining the council, Russ worked 33 years as an attorney for St. Louis County, and in her retirement she continues to volunteer her legal services to help people who need legal representation but can’t afford it.

Russ could not be reached for comment on her re-election Monday night.

2nd District

Joel Sipress handily fended off challenger Ryan Sistad to retain his 2nd District seat on the Duluth City Council.

Joel SipressSipress garnered 67 percent of the vote, beating out his challenger, Ryan Sistad, by a two-to-one margin, according to unofficial results. The 2nd District includes Congdon, Kenwood, Chester Park and part of Woodland.

Sipress currently serves as council president and City Council liaison to the city Parks and Recreation Commission. The 53-year-old history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior was elected to the council four years ago and has been active in both the DFL and Green parties.

“I’m very grateful to the voters of the 2nd District for choosing me for a second term on the City Council, and I’m absolutely committed to continuing to provide effective and responsive representation for the people of the district, which has always been my number one priority as a city councilor,” Sipress said.

Sistad, age 23, moved to Duluth three years ago to attend UMD and now works as a project manager and estimator for Parsons Electric LLC.

Sipress and his opponent differed clearly on key issues.

Where Sipress stands in support of the city requiring local employers to provide workers with paid time off for illnesses or other family crises, Sistad said he opposes any such city mandate, preferring to leave those decisions to individual  business owners.

And where Sipress advocated for the city taking an active role against the development of copper-nickel mining upstream from Duluth, Sistad maintained the proposed PolyMet project should be evaluated by regulators who could judge it on its own merits, without any council interference.  

Sistad said he entered the campaign “with a desire to build Duluth for the next generation, focusing on economic development and growing the tax base.”

“I heard a call for more moderate positions, focused on city specific issues,” he said.

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