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Political novice Matt Little fended off a last-minute attack from a conservative super PAC and amassed a big war chest using online fundraising to unseat Mayor Mark Bellows in last week's election.
At age 27, Little will be the youngest mayor in Lakeville's history.
Little, finishing his second year on the council, says he started campaigning nearly a year ago and raised about $20,000, much of it from unions. That's more than the total solicited by Bellows, 58, and the four other mayor and council candidates combined.
Little won 12,175 votes, 44 percent of the 27,700 ballots cast Tuesday. Bellows captured 39 percent, followed by Laurie Rieb with 17 percent. Both will step down Dec. 31 after serving a dozen years on the council. Bellows ousted Mayor Holly Dahl two years ago.
Little is a second-year law school student at the University of Minnesota and has been working as a law clerk. He will be the youngest of the nine mayors the city has had since it was formed in 1967, said deputy clerk Judi Hawkins.
Little announced his candidacy last November and started door-knocking in May.
"We stopped counting doors at about 11,000 in September," he said, although he and supporters kept knocking until Election Day. He was attacked as a liberal in fliers mailed in late October by a national super PAC.
"Labels don't matter," Little said. "We talked about issues the whole way. I think people believe in the ideas we put forth." He cited his business competition plan that would use incentives to attract desired businesses to Lakeville.
Bellows said he doesn't know if having a three-way mayor's race affected the outcome, but he thinks Little benefitted from strong DFL turnout statewide.
The mayor's contest "was by far the most partisan race ever experienced in Lakeville," Bellows said. Besides out-of-town labor union donations to Little, Bellows noted the mailing by the super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Minnesota.
The political action committee is the state wing of the Virginia-based, multimillion-dollar PAC founded by oil magnates Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries. The mailers attacked Little for his opposition to outsourcing electrical inspections to a contractor in an effort to save the city about $30,000 by eliminating a job.
Little said he had unsuccessfully pushed for a part-time electrical inspector and hiring a part-time contractor during off-peak hours to maximize building permit revenue.
Bellows said he "had no involvement in" the PAC mailings and wondered why a national PAC would be interested in a local mayor's race. Most of Bellows' contributions were from Lakeville business people, his campaign finance reports show.
Campaign reports show Little received several thousand dollars from Teamsters Local 120, Boilermakers 647 Political Action Fund, IBEW Local 110 and other unions. Little noted he also received about $8,000 from Lakeville residents.
Little said labor groups supported him because he has worked in a mail carriers union, his mother was a long-time union steward and he supports improving city roads and other infrastructure to prepare for about 25,000 more residents the city expects by 2030. That work could potentially create union jobs.
Bellows' opposition to the $1.1 million Heritage Center remodeling of a police station to house seniors, veterans and historical society groups, and his calling the senior center coordinator a liar apparently didn't help his re-election effort.
"A lot of people talked about those issues as causing divisiveness on the council," Little said of those he met door-knocking. He said he will continue to focus on issues by using "facts and data to support arguments, not get into personal attacks."
Jim Adams 952-746-3283