Ralph Doty: Time running out for Bergson, Duluth

"A good leader inspires people to have confidence in him; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves." -- Author unknown In city government, as in all organizations, leadership at the top is crucial for success. Unimaginative l...

"A good leader inspires people to have confidence in him; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves."

-- Author unknown

In city government, as in all organizations, leadership at the top is crucial for success. Unimaginative leadership means poor results; good leadership usually translates into positive outcomes.

A leader's style, enthusiasm and vision for the future tend to be reflected in the attitudes of the people he governs. When a mayor doesn't expect that much progress will be made in his city, if he's not upbeat about his municipality's prospects, then many residents of his city will tend to mirror his negative attitudes.

Two weeks ago, this columnist addressed recent turmoil in City Hall. The opinion piece got more reaction from readers than any I've written. Based on what they told me, I've come to believe that too many Duluthians believe their city is stumbling because of ineffective leadership. Here's a small sample of comments:


Joe H. Kleiman, a Duluth resident for 54 years: "The leadership in City Hall is embarrassing. The top two jobs in the city of Duluth (city administrator and mayor) must provide competence and leadership, and we have neither. The rest of Minnesota is laughing at Duluth."

Retired Duluth dentist Bill Zimbinski: "The only way out of the city's financial mess is to deal with facts, not political stances."

A police officer wrote that Bergson was off-base "to threaten not only Chief Waller's job, but any officers' (jobs) who this city is fortunate enough to attract." (In a welcome development early this week, Bergson said he was withdrawing his proposal to lay off city employees based solely on probationary status.)

Ed Bashaw: "I would like to offer a piece of advice different from what you offered to Police Chief Waller: Remove your office door. Then there won't be a place for the mayor to attach the notice that fires you, like he did with Mark Winson."

Duluthians Fred and Liz Freeman: "(Mayor Bergson) is an embarrassment to this city."

A growing number of Duluthians, fed up with what they perceive is poor leadership at the top of city government, are losing faith in their city's ability to meet the challenges facing it. It's painful to hear residents deride their city on issues: The importance of tourism as one of the city's major economic drivers, the aquarium's future, a lack of new jobs development, to name a few.

Pessimism seems to permeate our outlook on almost everything. If the mayor and residents don't speak positively about their city, then what must visitors and prospective employers think about Duluth?

A good mayor is one with two characteristics: First, he is going somewhere. Second, he is able to persuade other people to go with him. That's not happening in our city. Mayor Bergson can still change the miserably negative views many people have of their city. But time is running out.


First anniversary

Today's column is a milestone of sorts: It's number 52. My first column was published on Aug. 7, 2005. Is this anniversary an occasion for congratulations? Well, compared with the productivity of other local newspaper columnists, probably not.

No one in this market has written more newspaper columns than Dick Palmer, who along with his dad, Herb, once owned the Duluth Budgeteer before they sold it. Dick wrote his first Budgeteer column, "Action Editor," in 1967.

Jim Heffernan, longtime writer, columnist and self-proclaimed Ethnic Editor for the Duluth News Tribune, recently retired from full-time journalism, but continues to write a lighthearted column in the Sunday newspaper. He told me he still remembers the subject of his first column written 34 years ago: A Floodwood farmer who was packing them in at the Hotel Duluth's Black Bear Lounge. Rio Pardo -- real name James Carter -- directed a small ensemble at the then-famous night club, playing a lot of south-of-the-border music and occasionally leading a huge conga line of fans down Superior Street in the middle of the night.

Sam Cook, who started his journalistic career at the Ely Echo, is the News Tribune's Monday columnist and editor of Sunday's "Outdoor" section. He wrote his first general interest column for the Duluth newspaper in 1980.

Budgeteer publisher Tom West, a respected veteran Minnesota journalist, is one of this newspaper's four weekly columnists. He told me his first opinion piece was written in 1980 for the Mankato Free Press.

Here's the breakdown:

Columnist Number of Columns (est.)


Dick Palmer 3,232

Jim Heffernan 1,584

Tom West 1,200

Sam Cook 920

Ralph Doty 52

If I want to eventually match the productivity of these contemporaries, I'll be writing this column until I'm 105 years old. Those are goals I don't expect to reach, either for number of columns or age.

A bizarre celebration

I can understand why some politicians might want to call a press conference to trumpet good news, such as achievements in our schools. But the high-fives celebration that took place several weeks ago in Washington was truly bizarre.


President Bush proudly announced that his fiscal policy -- consisting mostly of tax breaks for people who need them the least and spending more taxpayers' money than the government raises -- is working. Instead of a projected budget deficit this year of $427 billion, the deficit will be only $296 billion.

Is this his idea of a joke? $296,000,000,000 is a pathetically high number for debt racked up in 12 short months. Regrettably, it's a number we'll pass on to our children and grandchildren so they can pay for our recklessness. And it's immoral.

Ralph Doty can be contacted at .

What To Read Next
Get Local