Rochester re-elects dead man

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2012 - 9:32 PM

City Council president couldn't be taken off city's ballot.

Dennis Hanson

Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson died of a brain aneurysm in June. On Tuesday, he won re-election.

And it wasn't even close.

Hanson prevailed with 51.5 percent of the more than 46,000 votes cast. Challenger Jan Throndson was second with 43 percent, and write-in candidate Jeff Thompson received about 5 percent of the votes.

"It's what Denny would have wanted," said John Eckerman, Hanson's campaign manager and a longtime family friend.

The unusual election came about because Hanson died after the deadline for withdrawal from the race.

Filings closed June 5, with only Hanson and Throndson signing up to compete for the job of running the City Council. The withdrawal deadline was two days later. Hanson died June 27.

Under state law, his name couldn't be removed from the ballot, said Rochester City Clerk Judy Scherr.

And so the race.

Obviously, there were no debates. But the Hanson campaign did post several billboards and run a few radio ads.

Had Throndson won, he would have assumed the president's role come January, Scherr said. But because Hanson finished on top, the city must hold a special election to determine his successor. Which is what Hanson's campaign supporters had wanted all along.

"When Denny died, we were thinking like everybody else that his name would come off the ballot and they'd have to open it up again," Eckerman said. "But they couldn't do that. We talked to his family about the situation, and they wanted to move forward with the simple message that a vote for Denny was a vote for choice. With the situation that there was, the other candidate would just win by default.

"It wasn't a sympathy campaign. It had a real reason behind it. We wanted to have the voters vote for Denny to give the community a choice."

Scherr said a special election will allow those who supported Hanson to consider running for the office themselves.

Hanson, 57, had served on the seven-member City Council since 1999 and was elected president in 2004 and 2008.

Scherr said a special election will be held in April, at the earliest. Before then, the city must advertise the candidate filing period, prepare the ballots and establish an absentee ballot precinct.

Until then, Council Member Randy Staver, who was appointed acting president following Hanson's death, will continue in that role.

"Denny was a good politician and very popular," Eckerman said. "This wasn't just a campaign to vote for Denny as a tribute, but it's kind of what he would have wanted. He'd want to have the best qualified folks step up and fill his shoes. And now we can do it."

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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