A crowded field of eight candidates is vying for two open At Large seats on the Duluth City Council this fall — and only one of them is an incumbent after Zack Filipovich announced he would not be running again after eight years and two terms of council service.
The News Tribune Editorial Board met this summer with the eight candidates and considered their qualifications and experiences. Four shined brightest as most deserving to be advanced by eligible Duluth voters in the Aug. 10 primary to Election Day on Nov. 2. The four, in alphabetical order, are Ashlie Castaldo, Dezuwon “Pez” Davila, Tim Meyer, and incumbent Terese Tomanek.
Growing up in Duluth and graduating from Denfeld, Ashlie Castaldo was always politically minded, she said, and was “someone who always liked helping people.” Back home in Duluth and raising a family after earning a degree in religion and sociology at Greenville University in southern Illinois, she’s eager now to “give back to the community.” Working as a digital marketing director, she possesses a keen sense of how city government can improve the lives of citizens.
Castaldo is also a member of Duluth’s Commission on Disabilities and stands to be the first individual on the Autism spectrum to serve on the Duluth City Council.
“My platform is based around a strong workforce, keeping our City Council accountable, conservation, and being family-focused,” she said. “A huge portion of that is to look at affordable housing and to make the housing market diverse for everyone within the city. Not just so they can have an affordable house to get into but also to … have that investment behind them. Having that kind of access to wealth is really important for all Minnesotans and especially Duluthians.”
As program director for Neighborhood Youth Services in Duluth’s Central Hillside, Pez Davila works with youths and families, helping to provide safe spaces, clothing, meals, hygiene products, job leads, housing leads, and more. His desire to help and his street-level feel for the needs of Duluthians translates seamlessly to service on the City Council.
“It’s pretty cool just to see people thrive in their dreams,” said the native of New Jersey, a talented, smart University of Minnesota Duluth graduate we didn’t let get away. “There’s such a need in a lot of different areas around Duluth, in housing and jobs and infrastructure and other things, (that) I’ve been learning a lot about. And just getting to know so many different people in the community, you hear their heart. … Sometimes they feel they are overlooked. Being able to be a voice not just for one part of the city but for everyone as a whole is ideal.”
Crime would be a top priority for Davila, and solutions can be found, he said, with a focus on “people over politics. I think so many times we put (sides) against each other and forget that, hey, these are people we are affecting. … Every four years something comes out that brings such a divide, and nobody thinks you can be in the middle. … (Working together), there is always a way.”
Architect Tim Meyer, who opened a firm downtown in 2009, promises to bring a needed pro-business perspective and advocacy to the council. In 31 years in Duluth, he has served on the Duluth Public Arts Commission, the Downtown Waterfront Design Review Committee, the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission, and, most recently, the Duluth Planning Commission, where his second term expired in April. He’s also currently on the Superior Historic Preservation Commission.
“A lot of people are feeling that the business community is underrepresented on the current City Council,” Meyer said. “I have a son who’s 5 and … multiracial, so I see what people of color go through here. I want to be involved in creating the kind of city I want my son to grow up in.”
That would be a Duluth, he said, with an economy diversified beyond tourism and recreation, that actively recruits businesses and industries and their good-paying jobs instead of waiting for them to come to us, and that has housing options for everyone from lower-income residents to professionals moving here. As a member of the planning commission, he helped create the regulations to allow tiny houses in Duluth.
With a rich background in business and public service, Terese Tomanek was the unanimous appointment last summer by Duluth city councilors after Barb Russ resigned over health concerns. Immediately, Tomanek helped pass a mask mandate in Duluth that soon was followed by the state. She has also been a budget hawk, an effective advocate for creating child-care options and fully funding law enforcement, and a driving force for using TIF, tax abatement, and other tools to spur housing development.
Tomanek ran a chiropractic clinic in Duluth for 15 years. More recently, with a master’s degree in divinity, she has worked as a chaplain for Essentia Health and at The Hills Youth and Family Services, formerly known as Woodland Hills. Her public service has included stints on the Duluth Human Rights Commission, library board, Marshall School board, Lake Superior Foundation board, and News Tribune Editorial Board.
“I’ve always had a drive to serve,” she said. “I’m a life-long learner (coupled) with my experiences. … You can bring experience and coalesce it into an opinion on what ‘s best for our city, and I think that’s really important.”
Also on the ballot for Duluth City Council At Large:
Azrin Awal, who moved with her family from Bangladesh to Minnesota when she was 3. She’s studying public health at UMD and working as a youth advocate. Duluthians can encourage her to stay involved and seek public office again, perhaps after she graduates.
Scot Jenkins, a pro-business candidate after a career in oil and gas. He was president of Barko Hydraulics in Superior and now owns a heavy-equipment dealership in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, that services the pipeline construction industry.
Joe Macor, who ran for St. Louis County Board last fall and who operates with his wife an adult foster care facility for developmentally disabled adults in Fond du Lac, where they live. He has a degree in law enforcement and is a long-time volunteer coach for the Denfeld Junior Football League.
And Nancy Stam, a retired nurse practitioner. She moved to Duluth from Texas two years ago when her husband took a position at Essentia Health.