DULUTH — Roger Reinert, who has long been predicted as a future mayoral candidate in this city, announced his bid Thursday morning between an outdoor ice rink and snowy hills at Piedmont Park.

"I know we can do better," Reinert said. "That's why our campaign slogan is 'Expect more, do better.'"

Reinert, 52, was backed by more than two dozen supporters, whose claps were muted by gloves and mittens on the 20-degree day. He is the first candidate to officially challenge Mayor Emily Larson, who said in December that she will seek a third term. Larson was easily elected in both 2015 and 2019.

Eight years ago, Duluth's identity was that of a premier mid-sized city with confidence, energy and positive forward momentum, Reinert said. But now there are challenges — and it's more than just the pandemic.

"We seem to have lost focus on those key things that a city must do well," he said, listing city services, streets, public safety, parks and libraries as priorities.

Reinert, a commander with the U.S. Navy Reserve, has a varied political background that started with five years on the Duluth City Council in the early 2000s. He represented District 7 in the Minnesota Senate for six years and spent two in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He left politics in 2016.

Larson, in a statement released in response to Reinert's announcement, said Duluth needs a leader with a record of "effectively getting things done" and one with consistent values and personal relationships and a clear vision.

"On this criteria, I believe there is a clear choice in this race, and I am the better candidate for the job," she said. "Our community will always be stronger when we put people over politics, work hard, stay focused and deliver results."

Reinert was rumored to be considering a mayoral run in 2015 after former Mayor Don Ness decided he would not seek re-election. Reinert's name again popped up this year, with another election on the horizon. He said his decision became more clear this past summer.

He was, it seems, among the last to know of his intent to run.

"As I visited with people after I had made the decision, the response was like, 'Yeah, I knew this a long time ago,' " he said. "And I'm like, 'Really? Because I didn't.' That felt both flattering and humbling."

Katie Erickson, a local business owner, was among the supporters backing Reinert as he stood at a podium.

"I was excited when I heard Roger was announcing, and I wanted to support him in any way that I can because I just really believe that it's time for Duluth to have a fresh voice and fresh ideas," she said. "And I am willing and wanting to be a part of it and to do anything I can to make that happen."

She appreciates that he has what she believes is his genuine love for Duluth and the leadership skills that come from a military background.

Reinert, a lawyer, has the consulting firm Reinert & Associates and is an adjunct professor at the College of St. Scholastica. He was interim director at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center from August 2020 to May 2021.

"I know this may sound corny, but I feel called to this service at this time," Reinert said.