DULUTH - The first contested election for Duluth City Council since 1997 will pit two closely allied political newcomers against experienced council members.
The construction of the Town Green was the biggest thing to happen to downtown Duluth in decades, and candidates are looking to build upon the success of that project with a forward-thinking plan to shape development and city improvements.
Marsha Anderson Bomar and Greg Whitlock want to shake up the burgeoning community and increase citizen involvement. Bomar and Whitlock believe the uncontested seats over the years have made some citizens complacent about their local leadership.
Bomar is going up against incumbent Maxine Garner for Post 1, while Whitlock is challenging incumbent Jim Dugan for council Post 2. Jim Hall is running unopposed for Post 3.
"If nothing else comes out of this, I hope that we have stimulated interest in the city and the election process that has not existed in a long time," Bomar said. "A lot of people are new to the city since the last time there was an election. They may not even realize we are in the midst of this process."
But that doesn't mean that the candidates aren't in it to win it.
The would-be council members all agree the city must move ahead with other capital improvements such as parking, sidewalks and fencing. Candidates say the city should also ensure new homes and businesses being built in the community are good-quality developments.
Voters must go to City Hall at 3578 W. Lawrenceville St. to cast their ballots on Nov. 8.
Few elected municipal officials know as much about city planning as Garner, who has been on the council since 1991. Prior to holding office, Garner was appointed to the Duluth Planning and Zoning Board in 1988 and subsequently to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Garner says she has helped draft most of the city's zoning ordinances still being used today.
She hopes to bring her experience to bear as the city searches for a new theater company to fill the void left by the Aurora Theatre, which is moving to Lawrenceville. Garner also looks forward to helping steer the second phase of development of the Duluth Town Green if re-elected, which will include some road work, wrought-iron fencing and sidewalks around the cemetery and the construction of restrooms to replace portable bathrooms at the festival center.
Bomar says not enough is being done for areas outside the Town Green.
"The whole focus for the past five or six years has been the Town Green, which is a gem and it is wonderful, but it is not the entire city," Bomar said. "We don't really have anything that guides what happens outside of the Town Green area."
Bomar thinks a more comprehensive plan for the city's development would discourage unsuitable businesses and high-density homes and promote high-end construction projects.
She and Whitlock also plan to address another frequent complaint heard from citizens about the Duluth Police Department issuing too many speeding tickets unnecessarily. Bomar said Duluth police should focus more on positive community relations.
If she becomes a councilwoman, Bomar said she can rely on the same sharp business acumen that helped expand her engineering business from a single employee to a staff of 80 people in the past 15 years.
Incumbent Jim Dugan points to planned unit developments like the 200-acre Crossroads annexed into the city in 2000, which mixes retail, housing and commercial buildings, as evidence of his commitment to bring good-quality growth to Duluth.
"I want the city to grow, but not at the expense of the citizens just for developers," Dugan said. "I want it to be controlled, quality development for the betterment of the city."
A 20-year resident of Duluth, Dugan hopes to remain on the council to see through to fruition the construction of a public safety building on Buford Highway and a new maintenance facility on Chattahoochee Drive.
His challenger, Greg Whitlock, said his three years of serving on the Downtown Development Authority have made it clear that changes are needed.
Whitlock said the city hasn't improved much during that time, and developers are going to other cities because Duluth won't move forward to approve their proposed projects. There are also four or five vacancies in retail spaces on the Town Green, and Whitlock wants to spur businesses to open up shop there.