Two of the three people who took part in a Friday candidate forum will be elected to open at large Duluth City Council seats in November.
As they jockeyed for votes, the candidates described their qualifications.
Azrin Awal, who was the top vote-getter in the August primary election, described arriving in Minnesota as a 3-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh and growing up attuned to the challenges of small businesses in a family of restaurateurs.
When the recession hit, Awal recalled, “My family persevered, and that’s where I learned to advocate for myself, my family and my community … knowing that we can work together to create a better change.”
Awal came to town as a University of Minnesota Duluth student and became active in the local nonprofit sector, where she now works as an advocate for at-risk and homeless young people.
Finishing a close second in the primary was incumbent at large Councilor Terese Tomanek, a retired chiropractor now working as a chaplain.
“Listening to your concerns for your neighborhoods and our city has been the most important part of my work as a city councilor,” she said.
Candidate Joe Macor, a father of three who, with his wife, runs an adult foster care home for adults with developmental disabilities, also handily made the primary cut in August. For 21 years, he has volunteered as a youth football coach, as well as serving as head alpine ski coach for Duluth’s Denfeld and East high schools for the past four years.
Macor explained that one of his top priorities as a councilor would be to bring more economic development to Duluth. “In doing so, we can increase our tax base, allowing us to invest in some of the most important areas of city government.”
While Macor said the city already has made strides to reduce red tape, he suggested it could do more to aid development, by hiring additional planning department staff “to ensure timely completion of plans.”
Tomanek said increasing and improving the city’s inventory of homes would be at the top of her to-do list if elected. “We need housing across the board, and affordable housing is an important part of that,” she said.
Toward that end, Tomanek noted that the city is prepared to dedicate $19 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funds it will receive to affordable housing. She said that investment will be further leveraged with a soon-to-be-established affordable housing trust fund, supported in part by $2 million she supports withdrawing from Duluth’s Community Investment Trust Fund.
Awal, too, said addressing Duluth’s housing needs would be among her top priorities.
“I’m super passionate about making sure we are advocating for affordable housing, as well as transportation access, making sure that people are able to access work, play and areas of leisure,” she said.
In response to a question about candidates’ thoughts regarding how best to combat climate change, Macor said, “I think any time we get into these discussions, we should look at: Is it cost-effective, both long term and short term? And what does the council have purview over that can effect change?”
“One thing I’d like to highlight that we can do is to protect the lake. You know, protecting the watershed and the rivers,” Macor said. “Our stormwater runoff can and should be updated. We need to decrease the amount of pollution going downhill into the lake.”
Awal agreed the city must do more to protect its waters. “The lake was one of the reasons that I gravitated toward Duluth. It’s beautiful,” she said.
“I think we have to take a lot of aggressive action to address climate change. A lot of strong weather events are coming and have already affected Duluth,” Awal said. “I think the city’s declaration of a climate emergency was great, but it was just an important first step. And I think I will really push city administration to accelerate the work to decrease carbon emissions and to, of course, prepare for more extreme weather events.”
Tomanek pointed to the hiring of Mindy Granley, the city’s first sustainability officer, as evidence of Duluth’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. She noted that efforts are under way to replace more of the city’s fleet with electric and hybrid vehicles, while also expanding the number of public charging stations in Duluth.
“We also changed the way we heat our downtown, which resulted in a tremendous amount of energy savings,” she said. “We are hearing from people how important this work is, and the council is considering this in everything we do.
A fourth candidate — Tim Meyer — also will appear on the ballot for November’s at large election, even though, after narrowly edging out Ashlie Castaldo in the primary, he announced he was withdrawing from the race. Meyer, an architect, did not participate in Friday’s candidate forum.