Westerberg waits for the dust to settle

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 11:25 PM

Anoka County commissioner is leaving after two years. His next move? He said he isn't sure, except to keep up on the issues.

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There was a gathering at the Anoka County Government Center that honored Andy Westerberg and fellow board member Dan Erhart, who also lost in the November election, for their service. Andy Westerberg talked to some of his friends and constituents at the party in his honor.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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What's next for Andy Westerberg?

A four-term state legislator who later served on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Westerberg recently lost his bid for re-election to the Anoka County Board after only two years on the job.

While newly elected Commissioner Julie Braastad is well-known in Ham Lake, where she serves on the City Council, her election over Westerberg, of Blaine, stunned a lot of people, according to many who follow Anoka County politics, including Dick Lang, the now retired five-term commissioner who preceded both Westerberg and Braastad.

Initially "shocked" by the outcome of the election, Westerberg has turned his attention to the transition. He does not grumble about the redistricting that forced the election after less than two years in office. Nor has he complained about Anoka County's highly partisan political machines -- of which he has always been an outsider looking in -- that supported the more conservative Braastad's campaign.

Instead, Westerberg, 58, said he will offer Braastad assistance and advice, if asked.

"It's important that I support the new commissioner," he said. "This is no time for bickering."

He wants to continue to study county issues as they transpire -- not to interfere, but because he's interested. Anoka County, he says with a smile, is home. He can't help but continue to care about it.

"I'll wait until the dust settles," said Westerberg, as his days as an Anoka County commissioner continued to wind down.

"It's funny to wake up and realize, 'I don't have anything to do tonight.'"

Championed Vikings stadium

A husband and father of four, with two grandchildren, Westerberg is the longtime owner of his own Farmers Insurance agency in Coon Rapids and an instructor who teaches a driver's improvement course for adults at St. Cloud State University. So he has plenty to do.

"I love helping people," he said. "Being a county commissioner provided an incredible opportunity."

He said he doesn't know whether or when he'll again run for office. He feels as if he's "been fired."

"For what reason?" he asks. "What did I do wrong?"

Westerberg was author of the House bill in 2006 that attempted to bring a new Vikings stadium to Blaine. With the Twins and University of Minnesota football team getting stadiums that legislative session, it wasn't the Vikings' time. But the deal that Westerberg tried to broker -- in which Anoka County, the state and the Vikings each would have paid $260 million -- looks like a steal today.

Westerberg's legacy also includes the bridges that have made the busy intersection of Hwy. 65 and County Road 14 (Main Street) in Blaine safer for motorists and pedestrians. And he was a member of the county board that reduced the tax levy two consecutive years.

Although a fiscal conservative, he voted for what he thought made sense. He has supported the Northstar commuter-rail line, even though Northstar does not run through his district, because he believes Northstar is important to the future of Anoka County. When others opposed improvements to the airport in Blaine, Westerberg wanted to improve the runway anyway. Ensuring safety outweighed the cost, he said.

"I've tried to do everything I can to help the county out," said Westerberg, who refers to the county board as Team Anoka County. "I don't try to draw attention to myself," he said. "I don't think people like to see a lot of fighting and arguing. I don't, either. That's not what I'm about. I just want to make things better."

He wants to fish more, and he says he needs to work on his golf game -- he usually shoots around 22 over par, he said. He wants to ride his motorcycle to Lake Pepin when it warms up, too.

Last year, he taught only five driver's education classes. He has 10 classes scheduled for January alone.

"It will be different not being part of the County Board," he said. "I enjoyed working with all of them.

"Will I see them again? I don't know. I really don't know."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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