Ness wins Duluth mayor’s race

Don Ness will be the next mayor of Duluth.

The two-term Duluth city councilor and former Jim Oberstar campaign manager will take office after the new year. Ness beat businessman Charlie Bell by about 1,600 votes for a 52-47 percentage point victory on Tuesday.

Regular readers (notice I say “regular” and not “normal”) know my predictions for the mayor’s race had bounced around the last week, but I was close. Ness won 52-47; my last call was Ness by 51-49. My original prediction two weeks ago was the closest: Ness by 52-48. Bell threw it all away with a poor media cycle last week because he probably could have won this one. I’ll point out to the blogosphere that prominent political blogs like MNPublius and Checks and Balances had Don running away with a 60 percent landslide. It looks like I was a little closer to reality. (I am, after all, the 2000 winner of the Checks and Balances John Spanish Political Prognostication award).

Why so close? Ness is, after all, a popular city councilor and veteran DFLer in a strong DFL town. Two things: Charlie Bell is well-liked and very popular on the city’s west end (he carried ever West Duluth precinct, some by a whoooole lot). Even though he’s not a DFLer, Bell won a lot of support for being a trusted community servant. Also Don is young (33) and had to fight a perception battle over his toughness in dealing with major issues and allegations that he’s an opportunist looking for higher office. Hence, a very close election that still went the way of the proven DFL rising star.

As for what I think, Don Ness will be a good mayor. I’ve worked with him on political projects in the past and he’s always been good to deal with. He’s got a brand new city council that should be fairly proactive (Oh yeah, the Duluth council races were a slaughter. All five incumbents whose terms expired are leaving either by choice or voter will). Ness has been successful in balancing his ideology with compromise and coalition building. Also, I honestly don’t think Don plans to run for higher office. I think he could potentially be a legacy mayor in the city of Duluth.
For the record, there is a 90 percent chance that Jim Oberstar’s successor in Congress will be named Tony: State Rep. and House majority leader Tony Sertich, State Sen. Tony Lourey, or — heads up — this new guy Tony Cuneo who was just elected to the Duluth council. There is a 10 percent outside chance that the candidate will be some unknown from the woods or exurban portions of the 8th CD (or, in 2012, 7th CD after Minnesota loses a Congressional seat to reallocation and redistricting). Point is, Ness’s critics were off in assuming he would run for Congress from his mayor’s post.

So there it is. Congratulations to Mayor Don Ness and the new Duluth City Councilors.

Meantime, on the Range, we have a new mayor and council in Virginia that will probably fight just as much as the old one. The school bond issue passed in Hibbing but failed in Grand Rapids and the St. Louis County schools. As I said yesterday, Rapids did a poor job of selling their referendum and Hibbing did well. That’s reflected in the vote totals. I did not mention the St. Louis County Schools referendum and that’s actually bigger news. The failure of this bond issue will probably threatened the viability of some of the schools in this vast rural confederacy of small communities. This district needs help.
Now we political junkies have to wait for the Iowa caucuses. Stay tuned.


  1. I’ll tell you what killed the school referendum in Grand Rapids – they tax the crap out of people all over the county, places as far away as Bearville and Carpenter townships, to build new schools in Grand Rapids, a place where our children wouldn’t go unless busing was to be operated by helicopter, and we get squat for services. I won’t vote for ANYTHING to support them until this county gets their head out of their butt and does something that benefits someone other than Grand Rapids for once. I suspect a lot of other people who got soaked for new school construction in Grand Rapids over the past few years feel exactly the same.

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