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Duluth mayor postpones 'State of the City' address

Pandemic prompts Larson to consider new means of addressing residents

state of city 2018
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson delivers her 2018 state of the city address at the Norshor Theatre. (File / News Tribune)
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Duluth Mayor Emily Larson was to have delivered her "State of the City" address Monday evening in person to an audience at the West Theatre, but that was before being upstaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larson said she typically spends months putting together the annual speech, "because you're really positioning a lot of different things. You're dreaming big. You're talking about how to implement things, and aligning it with whatever's happening at the state and federal levels.

"But this is not the time for that kind of content. People need us to focus right now on exactly what we're doing as a city, and then take a breath and come back up and move again towards the future," she said.

Larson said it would be out the question to gather an audience together at a time when Gov. Tim Walz has asked Minnesotans to stay home and avoid public contact to slow the spread of the dangerous novel coronavirus that has been sweeping across the world.

"And it would be tone-deaf to give an address that isn't fully rooted in absolutely everything that's happening today," she said.

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"A pandemic absolutely takes your attention to where it needs to be, which is on the immediate, the short-term how we're going to make it through this," Larson said. "It's not the time to to be talking about broader growth, when you've got a lot of people who are recently unemployed, businesses that are struggling and families that are now also trying to help their kids learn from home."

Larson said it made sense to postpone the speech, and given current public health concerns, Larson said she does not plan to follow convention and deliver the delayed address to a live audience. Instead, she plans to send out the address electronically, although she hasn't settled on a specific platform yet.

But Larson stills sees value in delivering a "State of the City" address.

"The thing about a 'State of the City' (speech) is that it does give you a chance to share with the city both an assessment of where you're at and where you're going," she said.

"There's got to be some aspiration in there, but that needs to be adjusted," Larson said. "We still aspire. We still dream as a community. But we are going to adjust that message now because this new reality requires us to do so."

Larson said she hopes to deliver the address within a month's time, although no date has yet been set.

"We've worked really hard as a city to provide people with a lot of comfort and compassion and understanding and safety. But this pandemic shakes all of that to the core. And in some ways, the details of the speech do need to be set aside," she said.

"Again though, it's not about a speech, the theme was about a city that invests in itself and believes in itself, and that theme is actually really important when people feel like they're falling apart — apart from one another or apart from what feels secure and safe. And this city, this community is doing some amazing things right now, some by choice and some not. But people are really sacrificing heavily because they believe, we believe that we can get to a different place," Larson said.

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Larson said she remains more focused on message than oratory.

"There's going to be a need for us to continue to stick together, whether that's through a speech or other things. I guess for me it's less about making this commitment, like I have to check this box," she said.

"The moment tells you what it needs, and you have to pay attention to that moment. You have to pay attention to whatever that crisis is, because it will tell you what is required. And then my job is to work as hard as I can to provide it."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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