Debate features students' questions

The issues that most concern local high school students when it comes to the Duluth mayoral election are the same issues that people of any age group worry about.

The issues that most concern local high school students when it comes to the Duluth mayoral election are the same issues that people of any age group worry about.

That became apparent at a debate this afternoon between Charlie Bell and Don Ness, which took place in Marshall School's Fregeau Auditorium.

Students from five schools spent the past month developing questions they asked the two candidates, ranging in topic from poverty to road construction to jobs.

"I grew up here and I'd love to come back here," Charlie Pillsbury, a senior at East High School, said before the debate of the questions he wanted to ask. "Unfortunately, there aren't that many job opportunities."

"I was most concerned with taxes," said Nick Foucault, a Central High School senior, who before the debate said he favored Bell. "Now that I've started working, I wanted to see where the city was going to use the taxes I am paying without being wasteful."


For classmate Joe Makynen, also a senior, transportation was his top issue.

"I want to see how they'll deal with declining road problems," he said.

The candidates spent most of the debate repeating stances familiar to those who follow their campaigns. In their opening statements, Ness talked about being positive and forward-looking in his approach to city government, while Bell positioned himself as the pro-business candidate who was critical of previous administrations and would look to cut spending on noncity-related projects.

Stephen Sweeney of Marshall School asked what each would do to increase the number of jobs in Duluth and attract young people here. Bell said that, if elected, he would work to make it easier for businesses to come to Duluth or expand in the city.

"We have talking about this for years, decades," he said.

Ness said local companies do have job openings, but many aren't finding the candidates with the necessary qualifications.

The city, he said, "should do a better job of meeting the needs of local employers," he said.

When asked what each would do about the budget shortfall, Ness said he would look to cut some city services.


"We cannot afford to continue to provide all of the services we have," he said.

Bell said had he been elected mayor in 2003, when he ran in the primary against current Mayor Herb Bergson, "we would not be facing the deficit at this time."

After the debate, Krista Benko, a senior at Center High School, said that answer didn't sit well with her.

"It makes it seem like the community made a mistake," she said. "It seemed condescending."

Rachel Johnson of Denfeld High School asked what each candidate would do to ease the perception of an East-West division in the city.

"Our community brings a lot of battles into the game," Ness responded. "We need to do a better job of ridding ourselves of these old battles."

Bell said he didn't think there was a division between the two sides of the city.

"I think it's more of a perception rather than a reality," he said. "I think the community works well together and that's the important thing."


Sara Behning, a Marshall junior, said afterward that response was the one that most disappointed her.

"He [Ness] addressed it clearly," she said. "I didn't see Bell address it very much, saying he didn't see a difference. I think the fact that I'm younger, I see it more clearly."

The two candidates rarely traded barbs with each other during the debate. However, after Bell's closing statement, Ness said that one of the frustrations he has with his opponent is that Bell continually makes promises about what he will do for the city but lacks the city experience to fulfill those promises.

"No single person can come into City Hall and turn it around in a short period of time," Ness said.

Because Bell couldn't respond, Jessica Churchill said that comment made Ness look bad. "He had to throw in a cheap shot," she said.

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