Look out City Hall… The Newbies Have Arrived!

A Field Guide to Local Politics

It’s a bittersweet moment, when after November’s election and the start of a new year some old faces on the Duluth City Council go away and newly electeds arrive.

So it is tonight, when three new female Councilors take seats at the front of the Council Chambers.

They are At-Large Councilors Linda Krug and Emily Larson and First District Councilor Jennifer Julsrud. Those three join Third District Councilor Sharla Gardener, who’s been reelected for a second term, bringing a balance of females-to-males on the Council for the first time since the 1990s.

Also newly elected is Fourth District Councilor Garry Krause, who served a term on the Council before. And Councilor Jay Fosle is back for a second term.

Here no more, though, is Councilor Tony Cuneo, who decided not to run for reelection. During his term on the Council, Cuneo was well-respected for his dedication to such issues as green transportation. Plus, my teenage daughter thought he was super-cute.

Also gone is Councilor Todd Fedora, defeated in a squeaker election by Jennifer Julsrud. I can’t say I agreed with many of Fedora’s positions, but he was always willing to discuss an issue. Even when as we talked during a break in a Council meeting, I’d inadvertently follow him halfway into the City Hall men’s room.

And what will we do without those characteristic quizzical eyebrows of outgoing Councilor Jeff Anderson?
Anderson—who chose to run instead for the Congressional seat long held by Jim Oberstar and now by right-winger Chip Cravaack—could always be counted on to lighten the Chambers’ mood. Up would go the eyebrows, followed by a portion of Anderson’s dry humor.

So here we are, folks! It’s a brand new year in the Duluth City Council Chambers.

A speedy feat

The night kicks off, as it does each year, with the election of a new Council President and Vice President. In about 14 seconds, Councilor Dan Hartman is elected President for 2012 and Councilor Patrick Boyle Vice President.

It’s a speedy deal because whoever was VP last year usually becomes President this year, while whoever hasn’t yet had a turn gets a chance to become VP. Deed done.

“This past year, we’ve engaged with the community in unprecedented ways... and dealt with the continuing challenges of funding shortages,” outgoing Council President Sharla Gardner says in her farewell as 2011’s Prez.

Gardner lists some of the 2011 Council’s accomplishments, including its leadership in promoting tourism and its action to protect Duluth’s historic Tiffany windows.

“I’m proud of the 2011 Council,” Gardner finishes. “…And I’m confident in the future.” Gardner hands new Council President Dan Hartman the gavel. 

“This next year, I don’t see any shortage of tough, unpopular decisions,” President Hartman begins. Considering the uncertainty of the casino funds that have long paid for city streets, Hartman says, “We don’t know how we’re going to do street repairs. And the average age of the city’s water mains is 80 years… That situation is worse than our streets.” 

In addition, Hartman continues, there’s the effect that cuts in state Local Government Aid to Duluth could have on the city’s budget. “Yet, I believe this City Council will continue to drive to lay the foundation for a new golden age of prosperity to come.”