Howie Hanson enters Duluth mayoral race; Ness responds

Howie Hanson

Howie Hanson

Though Don Ness has yet to announce whether he would seek a third term as mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, he nevertheless has a challenger today as blogger and city councilor Howie Hanson made an early announcement that he would run for mayor next year.

Duluth city elections are held in the fall of odd years. Usually, candidates wait to announce until after the previous fall elections to avoid the clutter of all the corresponding advertising and news.

Hanson, 59, is probably best known as the publisher of HowieBlog, a news and events site serving the Zenith City. The best way to describe that blog is that it is somewhat like this one, only focused more exclusively on Duluth with an emphasis on reporting events and the outcome of public meetings. In 2013 he was elected as the city councilor for Duluth’s Fourth Ward.

Ness has been one of the most popular mayors in the history of the city of Duluth, presiding over something of an economic and cultural renaissance in the Lake Superior port city. In 2011 he was re-elected without opposition, the first Duluth mayor to do so in city history. Over the summer, however, Ness said he was still deciding whether he would run again, and was openly considering not running. That decision, we are led to believe, is coming soon.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Mayor Don Ness speaks from a podium sculpted from ice on the steps of Duluth City Hall during his last inauguration.

Hanson said he didn’t think Ness would run for re-election, but rather than waiting he wanted to get out early and let people know his intentions. The implication seemed to be that he’d be running whether Ness ran for re-election or not. It will be interesting to see if this is a winning strategy for Hanson, because it would appear that this move has awoken the sleeping giant of Don Ness.

For his part, Ness responded in a public Facebook post (his communique of choice), saying since he hasn’t decided yet, he accepts this as a challenge and is willing to debate Hanson on the issues.

“Howie knew that I would be making a decision in the next few weeks and decided to preempt that announcement. That’s his choice,” writes Ness. “In the world I live in, until an incumbent announces they are not running, we assume that they are running. So, until we decide otherwise (and no decision has been made or announced) I will accept the challenge of Howie Hanson running against me. And I would love to have your support in this effort. Who’s got my back?”

It says something when the challenger, in this case Hanson, tells the newspaper that he will probably lose if the incumbent runs, but goes ahead with the announcement anyway. Ness would be the prohibitive favorite if he runs against Hanson or anyone else. However, in a field without Ness, Hanson would enjoy a jump on the competition.

Hanson said he’s ready to debate Ness, just as soon as the mayor decides if he’s running or not.

It is at this time that I point out that Ness is a mayor who’s become known for using social media as his primary means of communicating with the public, and his opponent is primarily known as a blogger. This is, indeed, a different kind of Duluth.

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