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At-Large City Council candidate: Beth Olson

Beth Olson is generally a calm woman, but one day while on the phone with a former Duluth police sergeant, she said: "I was kind of squealing."

The reaction was understandable given the situation: She fought a government bureaucracy and won.

At the time, Olson was a social worker for Duluth Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, and was frustrated that it would take the Police Department at least six months to start a rape investigation. The problem, she was told, was that the department was short-staffed and couldn't shift officers over to investigations.

Olson said she formed a committee that included the aforementioned police sergeant, and after several months of lobbying and highlighting the problem, saw the city administration propose a tax increase to hire more officers; it was approved by the City Council.

"[The sergeant] laughs and says he loves to tell that story," she said. "He said, 'You just renewed my hope that things can change.' "

Olson gives credit to that determination and leadership for her surprising shot to the top of the primaries, winning or tying for first in 30 out of 36 districts, despite beginning the race as arguably the least-known of the five candidates.

Though she's lived in the area for about 13 years, most of those have been in Superior. She's lived in Duluth for only two years, after buying a house with her mom in the Congdon neighborhood

The 39-year-old's success hasn't come without controversy. After winning the primary, she faced criticism on right-leaning blogs and radio talk shows after it was revealed that Olson was arrested for disorderly conduct during a 2004 protest against President Bush when he spoke at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The charges were dropped; the city attorney said Olson should have been charged with trespass.

Olson said she was protesting Bush's stance against recognizing relationships for gay and lesbian people.

She's also been active in trying to raise awareness of GLBT rights. In 2005, she and her then-partner, Angela Nichols, were featured in a News Tribune article about gay couples who were raising children. Olson married Nichols in Canada, but she said the two are no longer together.

As for criticism on conservative blogs that she's avoiding full discussion of her past, she said: "I'm not talking about it because it's not a City Council issue. People are very interested in issues that are City Council issues. ... They want to talk about streets. They want to talk about parks and rec. They want to know why their libraries are only open 12 hours a week."

On those issues, Olson is one of the few council candidates who openly call for park programming and library hours to return to their status before Mayor Don Ness cut them to address budget deficits.

To pay for that spending, she recommends working to increase the city's portion of Local Government Aid, trying a sliding-scale fee and scholarships for park programming, and working to reduce excess spending in other city departments.

Though she said raising taxes would be "the last route" she'd consider to restore those services, she acknowledged this about taxes: "I think that it's a route that everyone will have to consider when they're on the council, and I think if people are saying that they won't consider it, then the question is ... What services are Duluthians willing to give up? Because there's nothing left."