Downballot Parade: a generational battle in Hockey Town USA

Another Iron Range political race worth watching on Nov. 2 is in Eveleth. City councilor Liz Kuoppala is running against Bob Vlaisavljevich in an open mayor’s race. This is another instance where I know one candidate better than another, having interviewed and otherwise conversed with Kuoppala recently, not to mention our shared Cherry High School alumni status. All I know about Vlaisavljevich is that he is the former mayor. Nevertheless, this contest is one to watch despite my sprawling bias.
In this race one candidate (Kuoppala) is running on a platform of active local government, with a focus on issues like high speed internet and the revitalization of decaying downtown buildings. The other is running on a traditionalist platform based on the staid restoration of order and tranquility, to “fix the mess” in a nonspecific fashion. No one will be harmed either way. It’s merely a referendum on objects in motion. Look back, or look forward?

I talked to Kuoppala recently and she told me how one resident at a doorstop in Eveleth was still conscious of Kuoppala’s Finnish heritage and its potential liability in a run against Vlaisavljevich, who is obviously from the eastern European corner of Iron Range history.

This is an interesting throwback to when Finns were known as the instigators of the Iron Range and had many run-ins with strikebreakers from other ethnic neighborhoods. Being part-Finnish myself I can say there is a certain pride and self-assurance that comes with being from an ethnic background that always valued literacy and social action that would come across as smug to others.

I kid, I kid!

In truth, Kuoppala will treat the Italians, Serbs, Croatians and Slovenians with as much respect as the Finns, just as I’m sure Vlaisavljevich would do the same for the Finns. The bigger issue here is the generational and attitudinal battle. Vibrant, progressive communities find ways to elevate energetic young leaders. That’s not to say everything Kuoppala would do is inherently right because she is somewhat young (in her 30s), but because we need a lot of people with passion and ideas to become civic leaders. There is an opportunity here to put a forward-thinking person into the Iron Range leadership mix and I hope the people of Eveleth take the chance.

But what do I know? I’m a Finn/Swede/Norwegian/Cornish/German/Irishman. Who trusts these blogs anyway?


  1. The first time I saw a Vlaisavljevich
    yard sign, I tried to sound out his name and nearly drove off the road in the process.

    Maybe it should just say, “Bob for Mayor.”

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