DULUTH — Two Harbors voters ousted embattled Mayor Chris Swanson by a wide margin in a recall election Tuesday night.
The mayor has faced an intense wave of opposition midway through his second term following months of public scrutiny over his business dealings. He also recently admitted he had been on probation for sexually abusing a 5-year-old as a teenager after years of rumors.
"We worked really hard," said Cynthia Kosiak, who was part of the Resign or Recall campaign. "We were out there today at the main stoplight trying to remind people to vote."
Swanson could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
City Council president Ben Redden will take over mayoral duties until a new mayor is voted in during the general election in November.
On Tuesday night, members of the Resign or Recall committee were already thinking about candidates, according to Kosiak.
Residents collected signatures to initiate a recall because of concerns about the way Swanson mixed personal business interests with his mayoral duties. At the same time, the mayor has been dogged by rumors that he sexually abused a 5-year-old when he was a teenager — a crime with documents that remain sealed because of his juvenile status at the time.
In a recent Star Tribune interview, Swanson admitted to serving probation for the crime in the early 1990s and working with the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking for the past year and a half in tandem with the Christenson family, whose daughter was his victim.
Swanson first gained attention for his flashy idea to build an underwater hotel in Lake Superior — a concept he rolled out on an episode of a podcast featuring a self-described reclusive billionaire who went by the name "Mr. O." City Attorney Tim Costley began looking into that episode, an article in the New York Times about mayors who are curious about cryptocurrencies, and Swanson's Twitter account. Costley concluded in a written opinion that the mayor had used his role for personal gain and violated the city's communication policies.
The state auditor, after its own investigation, agreed with the city's conclusion.
The group Resign or Recall began collecting signatures from residents earlier this year and eventually secured the requisite amount to kick off recall efforts. Swanson could have resigned, but held fast to his position and refused to step aside.
Members of the Christenson family asked for a slot during the public comment period of a city council meeting to talk about the sexual abuse and its decades-long toll on the family. Swanson's victim, Lindsey Christenson, now in her mid-30s, has struggled with mental health issues for years and is under the guardianship of her parents.
The Christenson family was denied a 3-minute spot at the podium, but the family instead spoke publicly for the first time in the parking lot of Two Harbors City Hall in mid-June. Swanson was inside council chambers at the time, but would not offer a comment on what was happening outside.
Swanson did not attend any city council meetings that followed — including the one where members unanimously voted to ask him to resign — until Monday night.
Two Harbors is a town of about 3,500 people along Lake Superior, about 28 miles up the shore from Duluth.