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Candidates serve food for thought

Many candidates for Duluth public office dropped by the AFL-CIO's annual Labor Day picnic Monday at Bayfront Festival Park, but not for the free hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob.

Many candidates for Duluth public office dropped by the AFL-CIO's annual Labor Day picnic Monday at Bayfront Festival Park, but not for the free hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob.

What brought a lot of them was the election season's progression toward a date likely circled in red on their calendars: Sept. 11.

That's the date of the primary election, which will whittle away all but two candidates in races where more than two have filed, such as the races for mayor and At Large City Council seats.

The picnic is one of the last chances candidates in those races have before the primary to lodge themselves in the consciousness of the 5,000 people Duluth AFL-CIO President Alan Netland estimated attended Monday.

"For big events, this is pretty much it," said Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson, who is running for re-election.

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"This is where the working families are. They're the future of Duluth. They are Duluth," said mayoral candidate Greg Gilbert. "Anyone who wants to be an elected official has to understand that."

For candidates who have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the picnic was an opportunity to meet people who might be likely to vote for them.

"It's a great chance to meet people who share certain values," said Tony Cuneo, whom the AFL-CIO has endorsed for city councilor At Large. "If you're somebody who wants to represent those values, it's a good place to be."

The picnic turned Bayfront into a hive of speeches, campaign signs and one very busy food tent. The venue also concentrated a pool of potential voters for candidates not affected by next Tuesday's primary.

Accordingly, it was for some a chance to hustle.

Laurie Johnson, a candidate for the 1st District City Council position, stationed herself near the entrance to the park with a big roll of blue campaign stickers.

"This is a venue I frequent every year," said Johnson, who is a staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 96.

For candidates not endorsed by the AFL-CIO, Saturday's picnic was a delicate balancing act; they would be remiss to not make an appearance at such a large event, but it would also be gauche to campaign against an anointed candidate.

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Gilbert has the AFL-CIO's endorsement, so Bergson and Meg Bye, also a mayoral candidate, kept comparatively low profiles, roaming the grounds and chatting with small groups of people.

Jeff Anderson, who is running for an At Large City Council position but doesn't have the AFL-CIO's endorsement, said he was counting on this summer's work, rather than his picnic appearance, to pay off.

"We've knocked on over 5,000 doors. We've got over 400 yard signs. We worked our tails off this summer," he said, adding that he was at the picnic to show his support for workers.

Also appearing at the picnic were U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and Senate candidates Mike Ciresi and Al Franken.

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