A deceased Lindström City Council member won re-election Tuesday, garnering just 10 more votes than the closest (living) candidate, one month after his funeral.
Joe Wishy, an incumbent and longtime council member, died of cancer on Sept. 30 at age 81. City officials said it was too late to remove his name from the ballot of six candidates just five weeks before Election Day.
Voters were asked to choose two candidates, electing newcomer Kevin Stenson with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Wishy received 558 votes — 16 percent — just edging out opponent Gerald Carlson with 548. City leaders believe some residents of the small town, located about 35 miles outside of the Twin Cities, voted for Wishy to honor his 12-year legacy on the council, where he was a champion of local parks and small business.
Lindström natives were known to pull up at the carwash where Wishy worked as an attendant and roll down their windows to discuss city politics, colleagues said.
“He called himself the ‘taxpayer’s best friend,’ ” said City Administrator John Olinger. “His ear was always open, day or night.”
Wishy played an instrumental role in smoothing out a disruptive issue — the 2010 construction of Hwy. 8, the town’s major thoroughfare. While on the Hwy. 8 commission, Wishy reached across the aisle to get the project completed, Olinger said.
Friends say Wishy helped the city purchase and preserve Allemansrätt Park — land that previously housed a Swedish family farm. He also collected classic automobiles and was a proud member of the Vintage Thunderbird Club.
Though his struggle with cancer lasted many years, Wishy never told people about the diagnosis or complained. Colleagues realized only after seeing some of his hair fall out during chemotherapy, Olinger said. Wishy simply began wearing a ball cap.
“He always said he was ‘feeling great.’ He never let on, even until the last couple of weeks,” Olinger said. “His mind was good right until the end, and his heart was strong.”
State law bars the city from altering ballots within 79 days of an election, said Lindström’s deputy clerk Kathy George. Since Wishy died after that cutoff, city leaders could not legally remove his name.
He still appears on the city’s website as a council member.
A special election will be held to fill his vacant seat after January, officials said. All candidates must refile for another chance to win.
While it’s unusual for voters to elect a deceased candidate, it has happened before. A similar case in 2012 left local officials in a pickle when Lake Minnetonka resident John Ericson, 75, died two days before ballots were cast. He won by a solid margin and his seat was filled with a special election.