Mayor Emily Larson notched a decisive win in her bid to serve a second term, defeating challenger Dave Nolle.
While the results remain unofficial, Larson led Nolle Tuesday night with 64% of the vote to his 36%. She received 13,340 votes to Nolle’s 7,509.
Larson became Duluth's first female mayor when she was swept into office four years ago, garnering nearly 72% of the vote against her opponent, Chuck Horton, with no incumbent running.
“I am thankful to the residents of Duluth for believing in the vision that we’re building together and for having the confidence in me and our team at the city to continue down this path that I think is a good one and the right one for this community,” Larson said.
Larson, 45, came to Duluth as a freshman enrolled at the College of St. Scholastica. After graduating with a degree in social work, she went to work for CHUM, assisting disadvantaged families and individuals. She later earned a master's degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth and also worked as a consultant for nonprofits.
In 2011, Larson was elected to the Duluth City Council and served as council president before running for mayor.
During her first term in office, Larson led the charge for a citywide referendum in support of a half-percent sales tax to fund local street repairs. Voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, and the Minnesota Legislature approved the dedicated sales tax last session. The tax is expected to generate about $7 million per year to support street improvements.
Larson said she believes the sales tax played a big role in her win. “I think the fact that we have now a quarter century of dedicated street funding is a transformational opportunity for the city of Duluth. We struggled so long and so hard with that, and we don’t have to any more.”
“I think also people do appreciate that while they may or may not like my particular stance on an issue, I am a very forthright person. And I think people appreciate the approach I take of deep community engagement and listening to people, especially when we disagree. We keep showing up in neighborhoods. I made the commitment four years ago that we would be deeply connected to our neighborhoods, and we have not slowed down on that one bit,” Larson said.
Nolle, age 43, moved to Duluth in 2010 to take a job as CEO of the Boy Scouts' sprawling Voyageurs Area Council. He served in that role until 2017 and now works as a consultant for businesses and nonprofits.
Nolle said that despite being outspent by about 10 to 1 by his competitor, his shoestring campaign “shows that being thrifty and honest and transparent with the people I talked to door-to-door and cruising around town, that with a little more backing, a little more grassroots support, their votes can be heard ... hopefully those that voted for me and those that stayed home will be able to step up on the next go-around and realize that it’s not a done deal.”
But Nolle said he’s not itching for a rematch.
“I’m a never-say-never kind of guy … but I have no plans to double down on election night and say that I’m running for anything,” he said.