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86% of voters vote to recall Two Harbors mayor

Chris Swanson faced controversy for the last seven months.

Chris Swanson
Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson listens as residents speak during the public comment period March 28.
Jimmy Lovrien / File / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS — After seven months of controversy, residents voted to recall embattled Mayor Chris Swanson, ending his nearly 6-year run as mayor.

An unofficial tally of both in-person and absentee ballots, with 100% of precincts reporting, show 86% of voters voted to recall Swanson, with 1,149 voting “yes” to recall Swanson and only 180 voting “no” to keep him in office, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State website . The question on the ballot was: “Shall Mayor Christopher Swanson be recalled?”

There were 2,215 registered voters in Two Harbors as of 7 a.m., according to the Secretary of State website.

Swanson did not immediately return an email or voicemail seeking comment from the News Tribune.

Todd Ronning, chair of the Resign or Recall Committee, said the group "couldn't be more happy with the results."

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"Our group and our community has been through a lot in the last six months," Ronning told the News Tribune.

Watch the results roll in using our interactive graphics.

According to the Two Harbors City Charter , the council president will take over mayoral duties and a special election will be held during the next general election to fill the remainder of Swanson’s term, which expires January 2025. Ben Redden is the council president.

Recall efforts were spurred by Swanson's underwater hotel and cryptocurrency pursuits in January, which brought a slew of other potential conflicts of interest and ethical concern to the surface.

Reviews of his actions have found he violated the city’s code and communications policy and was less than forthcoming with potential interests.

Two Harbors City Attorney Tim Costley in March issued a memorandum of opinion that found Swanson repeatedly used his official city position “for personal benefit or business interests” on a number of issues .

And in July, the Minnesota Office of the State Auditor found Swanson may not have disclosed all of his business and nonprofit interests before they went in front of the City Council. The auditor’s office also sided with the City Council and city attorney in their handling of the potential conflicts of interests.

"I would suggest that the actions of the City Council not only protected local citizens' interest, but also helped protect the mayor, too," State Auditor Julie Blaha told the News Tribune at the time. "I think he avoided some problems because (the City Council) avoided a number of contracts."

Swanson has maintained he’s done nothing wrong and refused to resign, even after the City Council voted 6-0 in June asking him to resign. He did not attend a regularly scheduled council meeting from mid-June until Monday, when he arrived about nine minutes into the meeting, after the public comment period ended.

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The Resign or Recall Committee began collecting signatures to move the recall forward in March. It needed 20%, or 498 signatures, of the city’s registered voters to sign the petition. It first gathered nearly 1,000 signatures, 735 of which were verified by the city. But the committee withdrew its petition because it had told people their signatures would be private and it learned later that would not be the case. Its second round of signatures garnered 618 signers, 532 of which were verified by the city.

"It looks like everyone who signed that petition pretty much got out and voted," said Cynthia Kosiak, an organizer and attorney for the Resign or Recall Committee. "Which is not, generally, what happens."

A lawsuit seeking to nullify the recall brought forward by a supporter of Swanson, who was represented by Swanson’s attorney, against the city and recall committee was dismissed in June.

The city spent $35,773 by bringing in outside attorneys to defend itself, Miranda Pietila, city financial director, said at the council meeting Monday.

This story was updated at 10:25 p.m. Aug. 9 with updated vote totals and quotes from Cynthia Kosiak and Todd Ronning. It was originally posted at 9:59 p.m. Aug. 9.

This story was also updated at 10:50 p.m. Aug. 9 with the correct number of "yes" votes. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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