Successful first term, future cuts leave Duluth’s Ness unopposed

And in regional political news, Don Ness will be unopposed this fall in his bid for a second term as mayor of Duluth. That’s right, the town that usually celebrates every fourth year with a bellowing kerfuffle on the city ballot will instead crown the youngish, internetty Ness the Hipster King of the Zenith City. This is the first time in modern memory that Duluthians haven’t had a contested mayoral race.

Two city councilors will also go unopposed, one roughly allied with the conservative wing of the council and the other with the liberal majority. There will be a contested race requiring a primary in the fourth ward, along with a primary among six candidates for the two at-large seats.

There might be some mild intrigue in those council races, but the real story here is the performance of Ness in his first term and the conditions that led to this. The first losers in the national debt and anti-tax political winds will be local governments and nowhere is that more obvious than Duluth. The environment has turned once-honorable civic positions into unpleasant tasks requiring you to make your city somewhat less livable through budget cuts.

That’s why Ness’s job in his first term is so remarkable. Indeed, he has presided over massive budget cuts and the restructuring of the city’s retiree debt responsibilities, factors that felled or tarnished many a previous Duluth politician. At the same time the 2010 census showed relative population stability. A drive down Superior Street would cause even the most hardened critic to acknowledge a downtown revitalization, one that includes far more recreation for young families and professionals than anyone ever would have believed possible 20 years ago. Ness was not only a central in these events, he led the city through them without making very many enemies, something almost impossible to do in Duluth.

Many expected Ness to one day succeed his former boss, Rep. Jim Oberstar, in Congress. Some were surprised the life-long DFLer opted not to run against Rep. Chip Cravaack in next year’s election, citing his desire to stay in Duluth and raise his family. But if this record in Duluth keeps up Ness might find himself in a good position to run for governor as a greater Minnesota mayor who gets results, no doubt commuting to the Capitol from Duluth on what I presume will be a hovercraft.

That is, if he manages to defeat Mickey Mouse at the ballot this fall. I think he will. In all seriousness, good work Mayor Ness. You’re creating an example for how to lead an area like his forward amid a terrible political and budget climate.


  1. Mayor Ness has at least helped turn Duluth in the right direction and has been a huge improvement over his two predecessors. He’s made a few mistakes along the way (biggest being getting taken to the cleaners by local preservationist and agitator Eric Ringsrad to buy the Norshor Theater, which needs like $12 million in repairs), but has committed to improving the streets which is the biggest issue for over half of the residents. The retiree healthcare issue has been a large success for him as well. He’s the only candidate I’ve seen in Duluth that’s like by the majority of both conservatives and liberals. It’s just the extreme on both ends (the hard-core conservatives who would find a reason not to like him regardless of what he does since he’s a Democrat and the hard core liberals who don’t like him because he doesn’t make ending worldwide homelessness from his seat as mayor of Duluth his major policy goal) who don’t like him.

    As far as running for Congress is concerned, why would he possibly want to? While things can change in politics quickly, he’s got at least four more years (and probably a lot more than that) with a salary approaching $100k and living in Duluth with his young family. Would he really want to go through a tough election to Congress (which would be by no means a sure thing) all for the reward of making only slightly more money and having to move his family to Washington DC? And on top of that, he’d only being one of 438 congressmen and have little influence for a long time.

    I don’t know what Ness’ long term goals politically are, but if I were him I’d stay in the mayor’s seat for another couple of terms until his prospects looked good to make a run for governor. If he doesn’t have the ambition to go further than mayor of Duluth, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding a nice gig paying him a nice salary with a company like Cirrus, MN Power, or Cliffs Natural Resources.

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