From Mickey Mouse to quirky local personalities, write-in candidates usually aren't serious contenders for local office.
But Farmington contractor Joshua Hoyt has bucked the trend, beating out six other candidates and winning more than 17 percent of votes last week to secure a City Council seat.
"It's very atypical to actually be successful," said Joe Peschek, a Hamline University political science professor. "If you're not on the ballot, I mean, it's very difficult."
The victory likely surprised many people in the south metro city of about 23,000. Hoyt, however, said he always believed he could win.
"We made it very clear that this was not just a shot in the dark," said Hoyt, a Marine Corps veteran and owner of a contracting business. "There never was a Plan B."
According to the unofficial results, Hoyt won one of two council seats up for election. The other went to Katie Bernhjelm, an incumbent who had been appointed to fill a vacated seat. She led the field of candidates with 2,585 votes; Hoyt came in second with 2,326 votes, 132 votes ahead of the next runner-up.
Hoyt's write-in campaign began after the City Council dismissed longtime Police Chief Brian Lindquist in August. Bernhjelm had cited poor leadership, including missed meetings and a failure to communicate, as the reason he was let go.
Many residents were stunned and upset by the council's actions. Hundreds flooded an Aug. 20 City Council meeting to protest, citing a lack of transparency surrounding the decision.
Hoyt spoke at that meeting and declared that he would run for City Council as a write-in candidate, despite the filing period having just closed. He asked for more clarity on the Lindquist situation and called for increased openness and community involvement at City Hall.
Despite the seemingly impromptu nature of Hoyt's candidacy, he said he had actually been thinking about running for local office for a while. "It wasn't a shoot-from-the-hip deal," he said.
He got to work, creating a Facebook page and printing up 120 orange lawn signs and 16 banners. He emphasized his write-in status constantly, he said, so people would know they couldn't just fill in a circle on the ballot.
He filmed videos, made phone calls and met residents for coffee. In all, he raised between $2,000 and $2,500 for his campaign, including $300 to $400 of his own money.
"We beat the drum for 78 days," Hoyt said. "It spread like wildfire."
Hoyt said it helped that he grew up nearby in Lakeville and attended Farmington schools. His wife is from the area, and between the two of them, he said, they know a lot of people.
Peschek said a write-in candidate is more likely to be elected in a smaller community simply because of scale.
Hoyt said he's no longer focused on the police chief drama, having requested and received the e-mails that council members and city staffers exchanged about the situation. Both sides were in the wrong, Hoyt said, and it's time to move on.
He's already scheduled an orientation with Farmington's city administrator, brushed up on League of Minnesota Cities policies and will attend a council meeting Tuesday.
Hoyt also is working on his "Neighborhood Outreach Initiative," trying to get one or two residents from each of Farmington's 30 neighborhoods invested in city government.
Bernhjelm, who voted in favor of the chief's dismissal, said that while Hoyt's involvement may have started because of a single issue, he's demonstrated that he's a passionate leader.
"He certainly had an uphill battle being a write-in candidate," Bernhjelm said. "I think he'll do fantastic."