Our View/Endorsement: Kennedy at top of crowded At Large field

When Janet Kennedy lists "health equity" as her top issue if elected to an At Large seat on the Duluth City Council, she isn't talking just about physical health. She's talking also about bringing economic health to our community, environmental h...

When Janet Kennedy lists "health equity" as her top issue if elected to an At Large seat on the Duluth City Council, she isn't talking just about physical health. She's talking also about bringing economic health to our community, environmental health, the healthy need for economic development and open spaces, and healthy balances with regard to energy and conservation.

Janet Kennedy

A physical therapist for 25 years, a parish nurse, a Duluth Planning Commission member, a member of the city's Vision 2035 long-range planning committee, a founder of the nonprofit Cross-Cultural Alliance of Duluth, and president of the grassroots Spirit Valley Citizens Neighborhood Development Association group in West Duluth, Kennedy has the experience as well as the spot-on, comprehensive priorities to make her an appealing candidate to voters across Duluth.

Seven candidates are running for two open At Large seats on the City Council. Four will advance from the primary election Sept. 12 to Election Day on Nov. 7. Those four deserve to be Kennedy, first-time candidate Rich Updegrove, and incumbents Zack Filipovich and Barb Russ.

"I've worked hard in this community and have lived here all my life," Kennedy, who gained valuable experience as a council candidate in 2015, said in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "I know we can do better as a city. And those policies we work together to build will help to build opportunities for everyone."
Some city policies can lead to unintended results, however, Kennedy said. For example, the city's rules and regulations for vacation rentals means that dozens of houses for visitors no longer are potential homes for Duluth residents.


"I definitely will work with businesses. I'm looking forward to that," said Kennedy, a member of the West Duluth Business Club. "I'm just excited to make a difference for Duluth. I'm excited for all of us working together."

Rich Updegrove

Updegrove is a teacher of college-level social studies at East High School who is unapologetically progressive. He was a national delegate for Bernie Sanders and decided to run for council when it didn't take a strong enough stand against copper-nickel mining. But he's thoughtful enough and open-minded enough to appeal to all voters, even those in the middle of the political spectrum or middle-right.

"What drew me into the race was this love for Duluth," he told editorial board members. "I want to see our city put children's issues first. The youth, that's how we make generational change. That's how we can really improve our city in the long run."

In the classroom, Updegrove asks students to argue against their own viewpoints, to consider the other side. He vows to do that as a councilor, too, something all Duluthians will be able to appreciate.

"I like to be surrounded by a variety of interests. So if somebody comes to me (with a proposal), then I certainly need to - on my own, not wait for it, on my own - reach out to (those who might be in opposition) and say, 'This is clearly going to be an issue.' ... 'What do you think?' Reaching out to people that you assume might be in opposition ... is, I think, responsible."

Barb Russ

Russ and Filipovich have been responsibly serving as At Large councilors since their elections in 2013.


Voters can advance Russ and give her a shot at re-election so she can continue to address housing needs, comprehensive planning, and economic development.

Russ retired in 2013 after 33 years as an assistant St. Louis County attorney. She's still practicing law, volunteering to represent families facing eviction and others. On the council, she has been chairwoman of planning and economic development, a critical committee, and has served on the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

"If I win reelection, number one is affordable housing. What we need to do is work with all the various housing advocates in this city, and there are a lot of them, and we have to come up with some good developers who can do some affordable housing," Russ said. "Experience matters. ... There really is value in not only having experience on the council but in your life. ... And I think I've done a good job."

Zack Filipovich

Filipovich is a native of Duluth's Chester Bowl neighborhood. Before being elected, he interned for U.S. Sen. Al Franken and worked on economic development as an APEX Duluth employee. He works now as an accountant for Eagle Accounting Services of Duluth.

As a city councilor, he cosponsored the measure to phase out Duluth's unpopular streetlight fee. And, last year, he insisted on a public process to explore the necessity of a sick-and-safe-time ordinance rather than just approving one. Like Russ, he's a commissioner on the Duluth Economic Development Authority.

"Being on the council now, I am really, really impressed with the work that our community is doing. We have seen a lot of good growth. We have seen a lot of good things happen," Filipovich said. "There's still a lot more to do, and I want to continue to do those things."

Filipovich remains motivated, he said, by a homeless man he met while campaigning four years ago. Despite being employed, the man was living in a tent under the interstate.


"The fact that you can have a job and not make a good life here in Duluth (is troubling)," he said. "And that problem is not unique specifically to Duluth. It happens all over the place. But I feel like we could do something here and help make things easier for people to make a good life here."

Isn't that a city councilor's primary job?

About this endorsement

This endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the News Tribune Editorial Board after meeting one-on-one with the candidates.


About this race

Seven are running for two At Large seats on the Duluth City Council. Four will advance from the primary election on Sept. 12 to the general election on Nov. 7. The seven candidates are incumbent Zack Filipovich, Janet Kennedy, incumbent Barb Russ, Brandon Sorvik, Jan Swanson, Rich Updegrove, and Richard Williams.



Deadline for letters

The deadline for letters to the editor related to the Sept. 12 primary is Tuesday. Letters about candidates are limited to 200 words and can be sent to . Other guidelines for letters are published elsewhere on today’s Opinion page.

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