From a crowded field vying to move on from the Aug. 13 primary to the general election on Nov. 5, three names jump out in the race for two open At Large Duluth City Council seats.
With well-placed priorities and with strong backgrounds and experience in business, economic development, and housing, gas station/convenience store owner Derek Medved and incumbents Arik Forsman and Noah Hobbs can be among the four advanced by voters less than two weeks from today.
Forsman was appointed to the council last year, picked from 20 applicants to replace Councilor Elissa Hansen when she resigned to take a new job. He’s an economic development professional for Minnesota Power, which means he brings a “development perspective to the council,” as he stated in a candidate-screening interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “I put myself as a middle-left guy but somebody who also believes in business growth.”
Forsman also has a strong record of community service, including on the St. Louis County Civil Service Commission and on the boards of the Greater Downtown Council and Community Action Duluth. This means he brings “a well-rounded perspective,” as he also stated.
“(Serving on the council has) become my passion,” said Forsman. “I love solving problems for people. And they can be big problems. Child care has been an issue that I’ve tackled and really helped to elevate in the community. But a lot of times the work of the council is to solve small problems, like somebody whose street hadn’t been plowed for a few years because it was designated as an alley.”
His priorities? “Tearing down economic barriers is my big one, and I include housing, economic development, and child care in that bucket,” he said. “I think investing in public safety is another really big one for us. … (My) last (priority) is really just getting back to basics.”
“Back to basics” is a term also used by Medved, who started working at the Gary Milk House — and then at Super One Foods and Upper Lakes Foods — while he was still in school. He bought the Gary Milk House a handful of years ago and has since also acquired Lakehead Oil and President’s One Stop in Superior. He learned his strong work ethic — that if he wanted something he had to work for it — from his single mom, he said.
“It’s not that the job isn’t getting done in City Hall, but I just feel that the administration doesn’t have a clear path or a set path on how we’re going to succeed forward. ... I really feel we need to focus on the basics of, you know, what makes the city whole: infrastructure, public safety, stuff like that,” Medved said in a meeting with the Editorial Board. “I’m young. I have the energy. I have the drive.”
His top priority, he said, is infrastructure, and not just fixing the streets and filling potholes but repairing water and sewer lines below driving surfaces. Another focus for Medved will be creating housing for residents of all levels of income.
“For many, many decades things have gone unmaintained,” he said. “Let’s focus on what’s relevant. Let’s focus on infrastructure. Let’s focus on the things that are important here.”
Housing is a priority for Hobbs, too — and his day job; he’s a lending director at One Roof Community Housing, a nonprofit.
On the council for three and a half years, Hobbs has also been front and center on issues like reducing red tape in City Hall, establishing a warming center for the homeless on the coldest winter nights, setting rules and expectations for scooter rentals before the business was even in Duluth. Hobbs was also out ahead of other emerging trends, like Lyft and Uber and vacation rentals. He has been an active proponent of responsibly driving change rather than letting it dictate to our city.
“The experience I have is pretty broad, and I think I’m uniquely positioned; housing is going to be the big issue. We have employers who are unable to hire people because we don’t have housing here,” Hobbs said to Editorial Board members. “I think that I have a unique skill set that will help us for the next four years.”
Others running for the two open At Large seats include:
Stephen Abernethy, an Army veteran with a master’s degree in leadership and change from the College of St. Scholastica. He works one-on-one to help clients overcome drug and alcohol issues. He is also a service coordinator for Lutheran Social Services, helping homeless youth find and maintain housing. “The City Council should be for the people and by the people and not for special interests,” he said. “We need to come together and be a more resilient city, and by doing that we need to take different viewpoints and listen to everybody.”
Mike Mayou, a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Labovitz School of Business and Economics. His priorities, he said, are sustainability, accessibility, and empowerment. “We need someone who is community-focused and who has a youth-focused voice on the council,” he said. “I’m really excited to bring some new ideas and new energy forward.”
Nathaniel Rankin, a former blackjack dealer who works as a quality-assurance field technician. He checks the work of those who install and maintain cable television and deals with the most irate customers. “I just don’t like how Duluth is going,” he said. “The money is mismanaged. We’re paying property taxes, we’re paying taxes on our gas, we’re paying taxes on this and that, and our streets look like garbage. Where is the money going?”
And Matthew William Stewart, who didn’t didn’t respond to several inquiries from the News Tribune Opinion page.