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Howie Hanson says he'll run in Duluth mayor's race

Less than one year into his first term as a Duluth city councilor, Howie Hanson announced Tuesday his plans to run for mayor in 2015. He acknowledged it was unorthodox to enter the mayoral race a year ahead of time, but Hanson said: "I'm coming o...

Duluth City Councilor Howie Hanson
Duluth City Councilor Howie Hanson talks Tuesday morning about his plans to run for mayor. (Steve Kuchera /

Less than one year into his first term as a Duluth city councilor, Howie Hanson announced Tuesday his plans to run for mayor in 2015.
He acknowledged it was unorthodox to enter the mayoral race a year ahead of time, but Hanson said: “I’m coming out early because I want Duluth to get to know me, and I want people to see if it’s a good fit. It may not be.”
Hanson said his gut is telling him to run, regardless of the outcome.
“If the community says this guy isn’t a good fit, I’ll accept that, but I think my heart’s really in the right place,” he said. “I have a proven track record of loving this community. I just can’t stand by any more and have the solution be raising taxes and initiating new fees. That’s not a sustainable solution for Duluth’s future.”
Until he was sworn in to represent Duluth’s 4th District earlier this year, Hanson had never before been elected to public office. But he described being frustrated in his role on the council.
“I got into this as a councilor hoping to make a change, hoping to make a difference. I’ve learned that you can in some ways, and most ways you can’t,” he said. “Many times in my first year on the council, I’ve felt like I’ve been living on another planet politically. I’m just not a career politician. I don’t aspire to be.”
Yet Hanson, a 59-year-old blogger, said he would greet the opportunity to serve as mayor of Duluth and have a greater impact.
“It’s the next logical step for me. I can’t sit back any longer and watch taxes going up and more fees being implemented without getting in there and trying to fight against it.”
The race for mayor would in many ways be Hanson’s first real political test. He essentially ran uncontested for Duluth’s 4th District seat, after incumbent city councilor Garry Krause resigned mid-election, citing the demands of a new out-of-town job.
Mayor Don Ness has not decided whether to seek a third term in 2015, but hinted in a Facebook post earlier this summer that he may be leaning against another run.
“Turnover in the mayor’s office is a healthy thing,” he wrote. “If you do it right, it’s not a job designed for longevity - you get your stuff done and you get out of the way. I have to admit, that’s the way I am leaning these days, but it’s really hard to let go.”
When asked about his plans Tuesday, Ness responded: “I’ve said consistently that I would make a decision sometime this fall and that remains my intent.”
But Ness hinted that he may be up for a contested race, after running unopposed for office in 2011.
“Over the last couple of months, I’ve heard a lot of strong arguments for why I should run again. But this is probably the most compelling reason yet,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting to have a challenger.”
If Ness runs for re-election, Hanson freely admits the popular mayor will be difficult to unseat.
“The only way that anybody, including myself, could beat Don Ness, is if he has a massive heart attack,” he said.
But Hanson suspects Ness won’t seek another term.
While Hanson pledged not to increase taxes if elected, he offered a firm commitment to increase funding for street improvements.
“I’m going to get Duluth’s streets fixed, come hell or high water,” he said.
Hanson said the city needs to do a better job of prioritizing its duties, and that he would redirect funds away from non-essential projects such as the restoration of the NorShor Theatre.
Meanwhile, Hanson said he would also take steps to increase the city’s financial resources.
“We need to look for new sources of revenue. We need to think outside the box. We need to knock on doors of new businesses. We need to have an extremely aggressive approach to economic development. No stone should be left unturned,” he said.
One of his ideas is to open a city-owned casino to compete with the Fond-du-Luth Casino, which is operated by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The city used to collect about $6 million annually from the casino under a revenue-sharing agreement, but that agreement has been invalidated by the National Indian Gaming Commission. The city and the band have continued their dispute in the courts, but meanwhile Duluth’s previous source of funding for street improvements has been cut off.
Hanson called a municipal casino “the best solution out there” and suggested it could be a catalyst for additional development on Duluth’s waterfront.
 “It will potentially drive upwards of $30 million to $40 million to the city on an annual basis, rather than the $6 million we received previously,” Hanson predicted.
A change in state law would need to occur before Duluth could even consider getting into the casino business, yet Hanson remains confident.
“It’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea,” he said. “It’s going to happen.”
Hanson also talked about bringing additional businesses to Duluth.
“The new iron ore mining of Northeastern Minnesota some day will be Lake Superior water. If we find a way to begin to take advantage of that resource in terms of bottling,” he said.
“I’m not an advocate of piping the water out of here. But if we can find a way to start to encourage bottling companies to come to our community and tap into that resource, Duluth could end up being one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S. with that huge asset sitting on our back door.”
Hanson acknowledged the idea of shipping Lake Superior water out of Duluth could prove controversial.
“There are a lot of issues, but it’s time to start the talk,” he said. “It’s time to start aggressively turning over every stone. Everything should be on the table. But what shouldn’t be on the table is taxing and feeing little old ladies out of their households.”

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