Election shakes up Shakopee

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 10:44 PM

Voters picked a new mayor and a new City Council member.

After a pair of election cycles in Scott County featuring big wins for fiscal hawks, Tuesday's races in Savage and Shakopee lifted candidates stressing investments in quality of life.

In Savage, in particular, incumbents emerged relieved that a series of hot-button decisions didn't sink any of them despite signs of crafty strategic campaigning.

"The three of us tackled some pretty tough issues in the last year or so," said Savage Mayor Janet Williams, who wasn't opposed but drew some write-ins. "Yet people were saying, 'We're pleased with the way things are going.'"

In Shakopee, veteran Mayor John Schmitt lost his job to a much younger business leader who'd come in with both barrels blazing. But Brad Tabke stresses it was never personal.

"John did wonderful service to Shakopee for many, many years," he said. "We just had differing opinions."

Schmitt was in no mood late last week to dissect what happened. "I'm fine," he said, "but I'm not interested in taking part in a post-mortem on the election."

In Tabke and council victor Jay Whiting, Shakopee voters chose two newcomers with similar pitches, stressing an affection for the city's small-town soul but also talking about fresh approaches.

Tabke, in particular, listed a series of issues, including a shortage of police, that collectively would cost some money to remedy. Voters also returned to office, however, the city's leading anti-spender, Council Member Matt Lehman.

"Matt and I have e-mailed," Tabke said. "We aren't of the same mindset on everything, but we believe there's still a lot of really good things we can get done."

Whiting cast himself more in the Tabke mold than in that of Schmitt. "I've known them both for years," he said, "and I think my positions will be better served through Brad. I'd have to push a boulder uphill more with John. If I have an idea, I'm able to get it on an agenda easier with Brad."

In Savage, challenger Joe Julius had stressed the city's comparatively high tax rate. He also sought the votes of residents unhappy over council decisions or upcoming votes on such issues as affordable housing, the loss of woodlands and the prospect of a sports arena in a city park. And he questioned city involvement in such private-sector businesses as liquor sales.

It was a lengthy list, and incumbents Al McColl and Christine Kelly faced challenging re-election bids.

"We were working to say to people who like what's happening, 'You need to get out and vote,'" Williams said.

Julius drew 1,123 votes, or roughly 29 percent, while McColl got 1,397 (36 percent) and Kelly 1,341 (34 percent).

But a light turnout, combined with surveys showing a lot of support for the status quo, and her own lack of a challenger, left Williams smiling.

"If there was dissatisfaction with the three of us, why didn't we have what they had in Shakopee?" she asked.

In Shakopee, both Tabke and Whiting stressed extensive personal contact with voters as the key to victory.

Some candidates relied on existing networks of friends and family, Whiting said, but he knocked on a lot of doors. Tabke said he targeted certain precincts and between himself and volunteers, hit 1,700 households in the week before the election, with precinct-by-precinct results that suggested the strategy worked.

His stress on such quality-of-life amenities as a better community center was part of the reason he won, he said, but "a lot of it was people tired of things staying the same way. They see the potential and know what we can do."

After a tense night watching a vote count so close that he was exploring the rules for recounts, Tabke ended up winning handily, 54 percent to 45 percent. Whiting was narrowly the leading vote getter among a crowded field for council, with 24 percent to Lehman's 23 percent. Incumbent Patrick Heitzman finished third with 19 percent and lost his seat.

It's a moment of generational shift in Shakopee, Tabke said. "This is a big moment for Shakopee. It's exciting. There are a lot of really fun things we can do."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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