Five candidates running for three district seats on the Duluth City Council took the Duluth Playhouse stage to share their views and discuss their qualifications at a forum Tuesday morning.
The participants included incumbent 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson and his challenger, Becky Hall; 3rd District candidate Theresa O'Halloran-Johnson; as well as Janet Kennedy and Jeanne Koneczny, who both seek to represent Duluth's 5th District. Meanwhile, 3rd District candidate Roz Randorf continues an active campaign but was unable to attend Tuesday's event due to a prior out-of-town work commitment.
Anderson described it as an honor and privilege to serve the constituents of Duluth's easternmost 1st District and asked to continue on in his council role. "I believe that the people of the district will support me in this re-election because of the ways I have responded and supported them over the past four years. Even when people disagree with me, they are happy to meet with me, because they know they will be listened to and they will be respected. They know that my phone is open, my email is open and that I'm responsive."
Hall, who is taking on Anderson, described herself as a mother of five with a background in economic development, and said: "I want Duluth to continue to be the safest, most affordable and opportunity-filled place for us to raise our families. That's why I got into this race."
O'Halloran-Johnson, a social worker and mother of three daughters, has been campaigning door to door for weeks. and said: "The things that I hear, knocking doors, really it's not any different from one neighborhood to the next. It's housing, housing, housing and streets."
Koneczny said Duluth's westernmost 5th District has much great untapped potential. "We have the industrial land. We have the manufacturing areas that can be used. We also have housing that's already zoned. I think that's the gold that we have in the western part of town, and I think the city needs to concentrate on the western part of town. Everything seems to be either up over the hill or out east or downtown."
Kennedy agreed, saying: "For western Duluth, because we haven't had a lot of investment, it's time for everything and all. We're ready for it. We're open for business."
In particular, Kennedy seeks to address the food insecurity issue she sees in the 5th District. "Right now in Morgan Park, they don't have fresh food availability. The closest store with fresh foods is Kwik Trip, and that's minimal at best," she said.
Anderson said he thinks the City Council has not been afraid to take on tough issues, such as a policy requiring local businesses to provide employees with a certain amount of paid time off to deal with family illnesses or emergencies.
"I believe that we ended up landing on an ordinance that found a good middle ground. We had advocates on one side that wanted the strongest policy anywhere in the nation. And we also had business leaders who were really concerned about the effects," he said, noting that the final product afforded more modest time-off benefits than initially proposed and applies only to businesses with five or more employees.
Hall, however, criticized the ordinance as unnecessary, saying: "By imposing these rules and then having to have staff to police this, I'd rather have staff policing our streets rather than putting another burden on businesses."
O'Halloran-Johnson served on the Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force that first recommended a policy to the City Council. and commented: "I think that saying that workers' rights and business development are mutually exclusive really unfairly politicizes economic development in a way that's not good for the city or the businesses in it."
But Koneczny continued to take a very dim view of the policy, saying: "When they passed the ESST (Earned Sick and Safe Time) Ordinance, the City Council, the administration should have nothing to do with people who are in business. It's not their job to tell businesses how to do their business."
Koneczny pointed to her experience as a homeowner, business person, nonprofit leader and community activist. Now retired, she said she's eager to devote her efforts to serve the district in a new capacity and quipped: "I think there's a need for some gray hair on the City Council."
For her part, Kennedy described feeling driven to serve and said: "I have a vision of a community that has opportunities for everyone."