West metro candidates make their case for mayor
- Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA, TOM MEERSMAN and KELLY SMITH
- Star Tribune
- October 24, 2012 - 12:22 PM
In Edina, the incumbent mayor is running against a former council member who says the mayor's too "urbanist." In Robbinsdale, two friends are vying for an opening in the city's top job.
Several west-metro cities have contested races for mayor on Nov. 6, and the campaigns have ranged from cordial to contentious.
Here are snapshots of the races:
In Edina, the mayoral race between eight-year incumbent Jim Hovland and former City Council Member Linda Masica offers voters competing visions for the city's future.
Redevelopment has been a theme during Hovland's time as mayor, with new senior developments, an emphasis on making the city pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and community brainstorming projects like the one to redesign the traffic-heavy GrandView District. Hovland said he believes changes in the city code have curbed complaints about massive new homes that overwhelm their neighbors.
"Redevelopment is extraordinarily important," he said. "We need to do it carefully and make it a win for our town and developers as well."
Masica calls Hovland "an urbanist" and said the denser development of recent years "may gel with a small group of people, but the majority want a residential community. I don't think this jibes with what the community wants."
A fourth-generation Edina resident and former business owner, Masica was on the City Council for eight years but did not run for re-election in 2008. She said she was burned out after working on the city's comprehensive plan, but now is ready to get involved in city affairs again.
A primary theme in her campaign is that Hovland has been in office too long. She thinks the city does too many studies and hires too many consultants.
"It's time for a change," she said. "A lot of people feel we're in a rut, and they're tired of [Hovland's] urbanistic point of view. ...
"Does this public want creeping commercialism or do they want a residential community that serves their needs and is what people come to Edina for?"
Hovland, an attorney who was on the council for eight years before he became mayor, said he is proud of his work as mayor. As proof of sound financial management, he pointed to the city retaining its triple A bond rating from two major rating agencies throughout the recession. In a recent survey, 92 percent of residents said they felt the city was headed in the right direction.
Hovland has been one of the area's most involved mayors, serving in leadership roles in mayors' and transportation groups. That, he said, has helped keep Edina on the cutting edge.
"We're not an island," he said.
Masica said the mayor has become an insider who talks only to like-minded people and has stopped listening to the community.
"I think he's lost his passion," she said. "His thinking is stale and rigid and falls into patterns that he never veers from."
Hovland called that assertion "nonsense" and said the city is more open than it's ever been. He pointed to the large citizen committee that worked on proposals for the GrandView District.
"If that were true, it would mean things were getting done behind closed doors, and nothing could be further than the truth," he said. "I've been really proud of how we engage people, making a good community even better. We've never been more transparent."
He said he is running for re-election partly to continue work on making Edina a town for people of every age. New senior housing has made it possible for older residents to sell their homes and stay in Edina. Now, Hovland said, the city needs to figure out how to attract and make it affordable for younger people to come to Edina.
Masica favors overhauling the city's street assessment policy, which requires residents to pay most of the above-ground costs of street reconstruction. In the past, some homeowners have paid more than $20,000 for that work. This year, the city tweaked the system, extending the payback period on property taxes from 10 to 15 years and cutting the interest rate in half. But Masica would like more change.
She wants Edina to devise a program more like that in surrounding cities, where cities share or bear most of the cost of road reconstruction. A partial rebate to people who have already paid road costs should also be considered, she said.
"I don't know how much taxes would have to go up, but I'd like to see how other cities do this and look at the budget and see where it fits," she said. "Out of fairness, we need to take care of this issue."
Hovland said such a change, without any rebates, would raise property taxes 18 percent. He said a total rebate would result in a 30 to 35 percent tax hike.
Masica is also proposing an annual large refuse pickup day where residents could put appliances, mattresses and other items on the curb and have them picked up for free. Many other suburbs in the area have such a day.
"I think it's a great service to provide," she said.
She also would like to move the public comment period of City Council meetings to the start of the meeting, so residents don't have to wait to express their views.
A video of a recent League of Women Voters forum featuring Hovland and Masica can be viewed at edinamn.gov/index.php?section=channel16_watch, under "events and other programming.
In Chaska, which elects a mayor every two years, Richard Swanson is challenging incumbent Mark Windschitl.
Swanson, a resident of the city for more than 20 years, said the greatest challenge facing Chaska is to provide adequate housing for the elderly and incentives to grow business. The city's location along the river, he said, should be used and promoted to make it more attractive for business, shopping and entertainment.
Windschitl became mayor in a special election in 2010 and then was re-elected. He said he's proud that Chaska has maintained services in a down economy without raising its levy. The city has followed through with an ambitious project to replace downtown streets and underground utility lines, he said, and it has many projects on the horizon that he hopes to see through.
A new mayor will be taking the helm in Excelsior.
Mayor Nick Ruehl isn't running for re-election, prompting planning commission member Mark Gaylord and Heritage Preservation Commission member Steve Finch to run.
Being on the planning commission, Gaylord said he's supportive of the many new redevelopment projects in the works, including Excelsior's first boutique hotel. He said the city has tried to strike a balance between promoting redevelopment and keeping projects reflective of the small, quaint city's past.
"I want to continue the forward-thinking progress in town we've created the last seven or eight years," he said. "I think the community is supportive of redevelopment. It's crucial for our city to remain relevant in the coming years."
Finch, who was mayor of Excelsior from 1996 to 1998, said he'd rather slow redevelopment plans because commercial projects are costing the city more than they are benefiting it. He said he also wants to preserve the city's small-town feel.
"My concern is, if we're not careful, we'll lose the unique qualities of this town," he said. "We continue to have non-financial people [on the City Council], and we're digging a big hole financially."
An election forum of the candidates from earlier this month is available online at www.lmcc-tv.org.
In Mound, incumbent Mayor Mark Hanus is facing political newcomer Mark Regan.
Hanus has been mayor for six years and served as a Mound City Council member for a decade before that. He said the city's top priority is smaller government, lower costs and keeping taxes low. The city also needs to continue strengthening businesses and attracting new business, he said, since the survival of small towns depends on evolving and adjusting to the times.
Regan, who works as a technical representative and project manager, said he's running for the spot because businesses that want to expand in Mound often get the "runaround" from the city. He said many residents are also unhappy with the city's decision to "outsource" its police force to the city of Orono. "At a minimum, a decision that critical should have been put to a referendum," Regan said.
In Robbinsdale, the city is about to have its first new mayor in 16 years.
After 32 years as mayor and City Council member, Mike Holtz is retiring this year. Candidates George Selman and Regan Murphy led the August primary and will vie for the position.
Not only are the two friends, but they're both active in city roles: Selman as a City Council member and Murphy as a planning commission member.
"The biggest difference is my experience," said Selman, who's served 25 years on city committees, in the Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
Selman is in the middle of his second term on the council and said Holtz encouraged him to run for mayor. He said his highest priority is to encourage development of light rail through Robbinsdale, which is one of the cities proposed for Bottineau Transitway.
Living across the street from the railroad tracks and having a young family, Murphy said he supports light rail because it will spur redevelopment, but he said he also wants to ensure that residents who will be affected by it are heard. Murphy, who moved back to his hometown in 2005, said he's running for the position to bring new ideas to City Hall and increase visibility for the city's businesses.
"I think I could bring new energy and a new face to Robbinsdale," he said.
A candidate forum with the Robbinsdale candidates will be held at noon on Tuesday at Westphal American Legion and will be replayed on Ch. 12.
The city of Victoria has an opening after Mayor Mary Hershberger Thun decided not to run again.
In that community, retired corporate executive Tom O'Connor faces 22-year-old Tim Gregory.
O'Connor serves on Victoria's City Council and said his main concern is maintaining high-quality public services at a time when property values and revenue have declined. Cutting expenses can only go so far, he said, and the city needs to seek new ways of partnering with other communities to share resources and save money.
Gregory said he represents the fourth generation of his family to live in Victoria and said the city should do more to preserve its waterfront and small-town atmosphere. Less cumbersome regulations would attract more businesses, he said, and the city needs to work on downtown parking and redevelopment.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388 Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141
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