Duluth mayor stands by decision to make trip to White House

She maintains the travel costs were worth the access, as Duluth seeks federal funding for multiple projects.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson poses for a picture with Sen. Tina Smith during a recent trip to the White House.
Contributed / Emily Larson
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DULUTH — Mayor Emily Larson offers no apologies for her recent decision to travel to Washington, D.C., where she was present for President Joe Biden's signing of the Inflation Reduction Act. The trip was made on local taxpayers' dime, with the city picking up the tab for a $932 air fare and a $647 hotel bill.

Larson said, "The White House reached out through formal channels, not campaign channels."

"I was one of a handful of mayors asked to attend from around the country — this is significant for our community and shows that our efforts and successes are being measured and paid attention to at the highest level," she added.

Larson said she sought to make good use of her time in D.C., extending the visit "to make it more worth the investment."

"I arranged meetings with our federal lobby team and federal delegation staffers as well as individually with Senator Klobuchar. In all of the conversations we discussed our congressionally directed spending requests — specifically the $15 million Lift Bridge and $3.5 million energy bundle priorities — as well as my vision for funding the library, implementing the $25 million dollar RAISE grant we just received and the recently submitted request from Sens. Klobuchar, Smith and Baldwin (of Wisconsin) to fully fund the Blatnik Bridge. All of these are good and important conversations to have in person and it was important to me to make that happen," she said.


Emily Larson and Amy Klobuchar
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson visits with Sen. Amy Klobuchar during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.
Contributed / Emily Larson

Larson's husband, Doug Zaun, accompanied her on the trip to the nation's capital, but she said her family paid for his air fare, "obviously."

Looking back, Larson offered a positive review of the journey, calling it "a great trip to advance the cause of Duluth."

"I left feeling both effective on our behalf and heard as a leader of this community. As we move into fall, and especially post-election in November and December, there is strong likelihood of a few fast-moving, comprehensive funding packages. Laying an informed foundation now of our asks and priorities is really important so we’re leading the our community’s conversation and not chasing from behind," she said.

When asked about the mayor's recent trip to D.C., Duluth City Council President Arik Forsman said: "I think it's always beneficial when your elected officials have direct relationships. But you also want to balance that with protecting the public interest."

He noted that Larson has not made a habit of routine travel to the nation's capital.

"I certainly think any chance you have an opportunity to represent the city at the White House certainly seems like an appropriate place to be to try to advocate for our interests. And hopefully, you plant seeds when you're on a trip like that that bear fruit down the road," Forsman said.

"There's an unprecedented amount of federal investments being made out there right now, and Duluth absolutely needs to get its fair share," he said. "If a $1,600 trip results in millions of dollars saved down the road and keeps Duluth taxpayers from having pay for Lift Bridge repairs or for other needs in our community, I'd say it's absolutely worth it. But you always want to be careful, because we really do try to manage the city budget tightly."

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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