After primaries, city council candidates prep for fall

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2014 - 2:27 PM

Voters tended to favor City Council incumbents during a quiet primary season.

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.”

Primaries differ

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.

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