Five of the seven candidates vying for two At Large seats on the Duluth City Council fielded a wide range of questions at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at Mr. D’s Bar & Grill Tuesday night. The At Large field will be narrowed to four candidates after the city’s Aug. 13 primary election.
Candidate Derek Medved stressed his private-sector background, buying the Gary Milk House after graduating from high school and growing the convenience store from a three-employee operation into a four-station chain now employing 40 people.
“I want to be a fresh voice on the council,” Medved said. “I want to go back to the basics and make sure that we’re focusing on things that will make us whole, things that are going to keep the city growing for years and years to come for our younger generations. I will be that guy, with a track record of making things happen and working hard.”
Incumbent At Large Councilor Arik Forsman, an employee of Minnesota Power, said he brings a background in economic development to the job. He pointed to opportunities for significant growth, particularly as the city reclaims and reuses previously abandoned industrial sites, particularly in its western neighborhoods. Forsman noted that the median annual income for modern-day industrial jobs is about $61,000.
Candidate Mike Mayou said he’s eager to address homelessness and the city’s need for more affordable housing, but he noted: “No one really has one idea that’s going to be the end-all solution. We need to work with our community partners who are already working on this issue.”
Mayou, a community organizer, spoke in support of creating an affordable housing trust fund to assist in the development of lower-cost homes on a local level and leverage other state and federal funding in the process.
“I also think it’s really important that we continue, with homelessness specifically in our city, to invest in our warming facilities across the city … and also hygiene facilities for everyone, so that everyone has an opportunity to use a shower or a restroom, regardless of your living situation. It’s really a human right, and I’m really excited to work on this issue on council,” he said.
Incumbent At Large Councilor Noah Hobbs noted that he worked closely with County Commissioner Patrick Boyle and local social service organizations this past winter to open a warming center.
“It was a pilot project that we were able to get off the ground in 45 days, which is almost unheard of in government,” Hobbs said.
Candidate Matthew Stewart said he previously experienced homelessness, living in a Seattle tent city.
“It’s not a problem. It’s a priority for me, and we need to work better as a community,” he said, calling for more thoughtful development. “We have a lot of vacant lots, and that’s lost income for the city.”
Hobbs, who works for One Roof Community Housing, suggested the city look at a number of options to address the need for more affordable housing, including the possibility of charging a fee on local residences that are converted into vacation rental units and using those proceeds to fund the development of more low-cost housing.
Forsman, a father of two children, ages 4 and 1, said improving access to quality child care has been his “signature issue” since becoming a councilor.
“I call it an economic barrier, where even if you make a solid living wage, if you don’t have affordable housing and affordable child care it’s a huge issue,” he said, pledging to continue his efforts to retain and recruit child care providers.
Stewart shared his dream of purchasing the old Central High School, now on the market for $7.8 million, and converting the property to Duluth’s own “Central Park.”
“It has one of the best views looking over the lake. It is just amazing,” said Stewart, who described himself as “a big ‘Field of Dreams’ fan,” and predicting: “If you build it, they will come.”
At Large candidates Stephen Abernethy and Nathaniel Rankin did not attend the Tuesday forum.