Mayor Ness outlines his vision for Duluth

Don Ness used his first speech as mayor to tell the community that he knows as well as anyone that Duluth faces challenges, but that he and all city residents need to come together to work toward solving those challenges.

Don Ness used his first speech as mayor to tell the community that he knows as well as anyone that Duluth faces challenges, but that he and all city residents need to come together to work toward solving those challenges.

"While we should be rightfully proud of our civic activity, real activity, real value is achieved when we move from civic activity to civic accomplishment," he said. "How do we do this? We do it through hope, optimism, cooperation and understanding that we can strengthen our country by investing in the health and well-being of our city."

Ness, an eight-year City Council member before taking office Monday, gave his inaugural address to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 700 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Monday night. While the night typically is reserved for a State of the City address, Ness chose to give a speech outlining some of challenges he hopes his administration will be able to overcome, including:

Reforming the city's zoning code and building safety office

Implementing what he called "a retiree health care solution"


Eliminating sewer over-flows and investing in the aging sewer infrastructure

Improving community safety

Reducing the poverty rate

Providing more opportunities for kids and families

Doubling investment in the Street Improvement Program by 2010

Growing Duluth's aviation sector and ensuring that when the time comes, "Cirrus [Design Corp.] will be the best place to expand their operations."

While Ness's speech offered little in the way of the nuts-and-bolts of how he'll achieve those goals, he provided instead his overall philosophy on how he'll run the city.

"I feel an overwhelming sense of purpose to serve, and to accomplish, on behalf of the city that we love," he said. "In 2008, my primary focus as your mayor will be on the internal management of city operations and on the un-glamorous complexities of city policy."


In that regard, Ness may be the exact opposite of his predecessor, Herb Bergson, who spoke briefly before Ness's address and nearly stole the show.

Bergson started by joking to the City Council, "Did you pass anything tonight that I can veto?" and then talked about the "painful promises" made by previous mayoral administrations.

"It's painful to stop the bleeding of the promise of retiree health care," he said. After listing the aquarium, police and file pensions and the Northwest Air building, Bergson said, "I want to challenge the new, incoming mayor and councilors to be mindful of that. Twenty years from now, the promises you make may come back to haunt them."

He listed what he felt were some of his accomplishments over the past four years, including $750 million in new construction permits, lowering homelessness and working to reduce the retiree health care liability.

Bergson then announced that he had a new boss and that his employer was in the audience. He was then given his granddaughter, 5-month-old Hannah Marie Bergson, whom he held up to the laughs and cheers of the crowd. Bergson then left with his family and didn't stay for Ness' inauguration or speech.

There were relatively few laughs during Ness' speech, although one came when he talked about his own family.

"I am convinced that by establishing a healthy balance, I will be both an effective mayor and a loving husband and father," he said. Ness' general election opponent, Charlie Bell, had said during the campaign that being mayor placed too much demand on family time.

Many of Ness' family members were in attendance, including his wife, Laura, and their two young children, Eleanor and James. He was also sworn in by his uncle, Judge Tom McCarthy.


Ness said he will focus on three core principals as mayor: service, innovation and accountability. In that regard, he gave all the public in attendance a copy of his plan for his 100 days in office, which is also available on the city of Duluth's Web site, .

He will also provide three State of the City addresses throughout the year, beginning with a speech on April 25 to discuss his first 100 days.

Ness used Monday's speech to highlight what he felt makes Duluth a great city, including the "talent, energy and passion of those in this room and throughout our city."

He said he wanted Duluth to "be widely recognized as the outdoor destination of the Midwest, where we share our clean air, lush parks and forests, and genuine hospitality with millions of visitors."

The new mayor closed by paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, reinforcing the notion that the challenges facing the city must be dealt with together, and will be hard to accomplish.

"We do not take on our challenges because they are easy -- but because they are hard," Ness said. "And we do it because we believe in our city, and we do it because we believe it can be done. When we allow our love for this community to guide our civic engagement, our great potential will finally be realized."

While many in the crowd said they wanted to see more details of what Ness will do as mayor, they realized that he was limited by not yet being in office.

John Rathe, who has been critical of Ness in the past on his blog,, said he thought Ness was trying to get the city energized.


"He was pretty nondescriptive,there wasn't a lot of content on what was going to happen over the next four years," he said. "To me sounded like a teacher or a coach."

Outgoing councilor Russ Stewart said he thought it was a good first speech for the mayor.

"It was uniting, very optimistic and very forward looking," he said.

Others said they're optimistic that Ness will be able to achieve the vision he presented Monday night.

"Your success in a position like this is going to come if you surround yourself with good people. I'm sure he'll attract those people," new City Councilor Todd Fedora said. "Hopefully, we can work together and implement some change for folks trying to live here and raise a family here."

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