With the Aug. 13 primary just two weeks away, Duluth’s mayoral candidates gathered Tuesday night at Mr. D’s Bar & Grill to jockey for political advantage at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Duluth.
Incumbent Mayor Emily Larson squared off against four of the challengers she will face, but four others were no-shows — Caleb Anderson, Doris Queen Lavender, John Socha and Donald Raihala.
Larson pointed to her efforts to make city government more inclusive by training staff about implicit bias, racism and white privilege. She also noted that the city under her leadership settled a long-running legal dispute over casino revenues with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
“When I took office, I inherited a talented wonderful leadership team of 100 percent white men, and they had terrific talents,” Larson said. “But I have changed what that leadership looks like, not just for me, as a leader who happens to be female … but also for our residents, so that we have a leadership that actually reflects and looks like our community.”
Candidate Corey Ford suggested the city should do more to vocally oppose projects such as the proposed PolyMet mine, given the pollution issues that have arisen with previous efforts to extract sulfide-laden copper-nickel deposits elsewhere.
“Places around the world are banning these types of mines. Why would we want to bring a mine like that and like Twin Metals, which is similar, into the Boundary Waters Region? If PolyMet goes, it’s going to affect every community downstream, including Duluth. It’s going to wreck our tourism. It’s going to wreck our lake. It’s going to cause catastrophic loss of wildlife,” he said.
Larson said she respects the right that people have to speak up on issues but said she must exercise careful judgment.
“I get asked every single day to take a position on an issue. That is part of this role as a mayor. It’s not just balancing the camps but the political will that also comes with it,” she said.
Larson described weighing a number of factors.
“I do think about the impact it will have on our budget, on our staff. I think about what is the impact on the health and welfare of our community. I think about what is the political lever that I have at different times, and I think about timing,” she said.
But she noted that her administration has not shied away from taking stands, when necessary, as evidenced by her recent call for Husky Energy to cease the use of hydrogen fluoride at its Superior refinery, after a recent fire there stirred concerns of a potentially deadly release of the chemical.
Candidate David Nolle said he is a member of the local Rotary Club, and said he is concerned about Duluth’s image.
“What I hear, visiting with predominantly business leaders in Rotary, is that it’s really tough to do business in Duluth. … However, those business folks are committed to Duluth. They want to work together, to collaborate and work with the trades. They want to work together with the city government. They want to work together with the workers to bring a friendlier business environment to our community,” he said.
Candidate Jesse Peterson advocated for a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Duluth, contending that other cities that have instated such pay requirements have seen business flourish or at least remain neutral.
“What happens is: People with money spend money. Right now people in our own community can’t afford to go to some of the most beautiful aspects of our community, and that’s categorically wrong that we have beautiful music festivals and stuff that are inaccessible,” Peterson said.
Candidate Daniel Weatherly described his experience with homelessness before signing up for military service and said that was one of the reasons for his enlistment.
“Everyone deserves a warm meal and a roof over their head, and when I saw there were 250 homeless children in this town, it just made me so angry, disgusted. I have to do something,” he said.
More to come
For more forum highlights from Tuesday's At Large Duluth City Council candidates, check duluthnewstribune.com Wednesday.