Ness to co-chair Minnesota Obama campaign
Count Duluth Mayor Don Ness as someone who's bought into presidential candidate Barack Obama's message of change. Ness will serve as co-chair of Obama's Minnesota Campaign along with Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Congressman Keith Ellison, whi...
Count Duluth Mayor Don Ness as someone who's bought into presidential candidate Barack Obama's message of change.
Ness will serve as co-chair of Obama's Minnesota Campaign along with Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Congressman Keith Ellison, while Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak will chair the campaign in the state.
Ness said he's been a supporter of Obama's candidacy ever since he announced he was running last year, and said he was "honored" when Rybak asked him to serve as co-chair.
"As a student of politics and government -- ever since junior high -- I've been waiting for the equivalent of Robert F. Kennedy to emerge, someone who I could feel inspired by and I felt could unify our country," Ness said. "In my lifetime I've never found a candidate who I've found so inspirational, and I have so much hope for his leadership and what that would mean for our country."
Ness said he won't be able to give much time to the campaign, and he probably won't do any stumping for votes or fundraising. Instead, he said, he will focus on his duties with the mayor's office.
"My focus is on the city of Duluth and the issues facing our community," he said. "But I am still an American and I care very deeply about our country, and as a citizen I want my voice heard in this presidential campaign."
Still, the announcement is certain to draw criticism from Ness's critics, and has even drawn scrutiny from some who supported him for office. City Councilor Jim Stauber, for example, was surprised by the news and questioned whether the mayor should devote his time to a partisan political effort with so many issues facing the city.
"I wish the mayor would in the first few months, if not years, concentrate on Duluth issues rather than campaign and endorse a presidential candidate," Stauber said. "I wish he would have declined the opportunity and said, no, I need to spend my time in Duluth."
City Councilor Todd Fedora also said he was surprised that Ness would take on the role.
"Given ... the amount of work that has to be done," Fedora said, "I would think he would want to focus on the city."
But not everyone is critical. Former City Councilor Russ Stewart, who endorsed Ness for mayor, said if Ness can work the role into his private life, there shouldn't be a problem.
"As long as the mayor treats his political activities as part of his private life, it's fine," Stewart said. "Look at Gov. [Tim] Pawlenty, who's co-chairing John McCain's campaign."
Before touring the state Monday promoting his 2008 bonding bill, Pawlenty spent the weekend in Michigan stumping for McCain.
Nicholas Kimball, a spokesperson for Obama, said the campaign wanted Ness as a co-chair in part because his role with the largest city in Northeastern Minnesota, and also because the 33-year-old Ness could help Obama appeal to younger voters.
"Mayor Ness has emerged as a strong new Minnesota leader, and we're glad to have him representing our campaign," Kimball said.
Kimball said Ness's level of involvement in the campaign is largely up to the mayor.
Hillary Clinton's Minnesota campaign spokesperson said she's hoping to open in office in Duluth soon but a location hasn't been found.
Kimball said Obama's campaign will open an office Wednesday in Duluth at 126 W. First St.
BRANDON STAHL covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 720-4154 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org