Amid concerns across the region about how City Councils function — and what can be done when things go wrong — south metro voters stayed loyal to incumbents in last week’s primary elections.
In some races, though, newcomers are nipping at the heels of their more experienced opponents and calling for changes to the status quo.
And with this initial hurdle out of the way, candidates are refining their strategies in order to court voters in the November general elections.
Part of that is identifying key issues to put on the table. In Apple Valley, for instance, longtime mayor Mary Hamann-Roland is touting the city’s high credit rating and job growth.
But for the most part, campaign season is just beginning — websites are under construction, fliers have yet to be printed and lawn signs have yet to be placed.
Burnsville City Council member Bill Coughlin said his campaigning likely won’t start until mid-September.
“I just couldn’t imagine that people in Burnsville would want to see candidates door-knocking right away,” he said. “There’s kind of a season for each event.”
During primary elections, with their typically low voter turnout and wide pool of hopefuls, candidates may approach voters differently than in general elections.
Gary Hansen, who’s in his sixth year on the Eagan City Council, said the lack of contact with the opposing side — or sides — can make primaries challenging.
“Everything is more behind-the-scenes in a primary election,” he said.
Candidates may not know their opponents’ platforms until closer to the general election. Rosemary Piekarski Krech, who’s been on the Inver Grove Heights City Council since 1999, said that not until a candidate forum in September will she know what the campaign issues are.
“This seems to be more of a low-key election year,” she said.
The campaigning that does happen during primary season is often a matter of reminding voters about the election, Hansen said. This summer, he said, he focused on appealing to his supporter base and reminding them of the importance of coming out to vote. In his door-knocking, he said, he’s already getting a sense of what constituents’ priorities are in this election — namely, low taxes and continued high-quality city infrastructure and services.
Still, Hansen said, he knows there are some voters who simply forgot about the election.
“Even though you keep reminding people that Aug. 12 is the date of the primary election, they just don’t pay as much attention to it,” he said.
Change vs. status quo
For non-incumbents, primary season may require a different approach.
Without a track record to rely on, their campaigning can be more about listening to residents’ concerns — and from that, identifying pockets of support.
Gale Anderson ran for the Eagan City Council twice in the 1990s, and lost both times. Now, after hearing his fellow residents bring up concerns about issues such as the cost of a potential new fire station and safety at an affordable housing development, he’s running again, this time in tandem with candidate Dave Meyer.
“There’s an old saying that talks about how iron sharpens iron,” Anderson said. “You can sharpen each other, and have an opportunity to learn from each other.”
He said he and Meyer decided to run together because they have a similar viewpoint — including the belief that opponents Hansen and Paul Bakken have been on the council for too long. As they’ve crossed the city to door-knock, they’ve kept their eyes open for voters looking for new blood.
“If they’re looking for the status quo, that’s what they’ll get,” Anderson said. “If they’re looking for change, we’ll certainly bring in change.”
Burnsville candidate Jake Nelson said he decided to run because he feels the council needs to be more forward-thinking and connected to residents.
Unlike the two incumbent candidates, he works an hourly job — night shifts at Target.
“I see issues I feel the incumbents necessarily wouldn’t just come across in their day-to-day lives,” he said.
Much of Nelson’s campaigning has focused on sharing those experiences with residents — something he’s planning to continue as November approaches.
Preparing for fall
Incumbents who had a quiet primary season are, like their challengers, starting to gear up for November. For some, this simply means continuing the work they’re doing on the council.
Burnsville City Council incumbent Dan Kealey said he recently looked through his old campaign literature and found that he’s accomplished what he set out to do when he ran in the last two elections. He and Coughlin both said they plan to stick, for the most part, to their original platforms — including a shared dedication to fiscal conservatism.
Piekarski Krech, of Inver Grove Heights, is taking a similar approach to this election. Much of her campaigning will come out of the resident interactions she already has as a council member.
“People are busy and they have other things to do,” she said. “They don’t need someone interrupting their supper hour to hand them a flier or something.”
After more than a dozen years on the council, she said she’s hoping voters will base their decision on what they’ve seen during her time in office.
“If you don’t like the color of my hair or the necklace I wore,” she said, laughing, “there’s not much I can do about that.”