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Piepkorn’s ‘stealth campaign’ carries ousted maverick back to City Hall

Newly elected Fargo (N.D) City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn keeps memorabilia from his career as a North Dakota State University football player in his office at TruGreen on Thursday, June 12, 2014. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – When City Commissioner Mike Williams found out Dave Piepkorn was elected back onto the commission here Tuesday, Williams could barely contain himself.

“He just basically giggled on the phone for about 30 seconds,” Piepkorn said in a Thursday interview. “I wish I could’ve recorded it because he was a little bit happy.”

The two don’t agree on everything politically, Piepkorn said, but they both “do (their) homework” and ask questions.

“I think he was maybe missing me a little bit,” Piepkorn said with a laugh.

Residents were apparently missing him, too.

Piepkorn took 21 percent of the vote in a crowded field of seven candidates in Tuesday’s city election.

He served one term from 2008-12 but lost his re-election bid in a close race to now-Commissioner Melissa Sobolik, who in the final days of the campaign got a rare endorsement from Mayor Dennis Walaker.

It’s somewhat of an uncommon occurrence – an incumbent losing his seat only to be ushered back into office two years later.

“I’m very, very happy, and it’s humbling,” Piepkorn said, sitting in the downtown Fargo office of his TruGreen lawn care franchise on Thursday.

Piepkorn said he’s taken the past two years to focus on his business and his family, but he was always planning to run again.

“I loved it,” he said. “I really enjoyed it. It’s just a blast. I enjoy learning and asking questions.”

He attributed his win to running a basic campaign filled with yard signs, radio spots and plenty of handshaking. That low-key effort is why Williams felt the need to call.

“I called him to congratulate him,” Williams said, “and I was giggling because it was like a stealth campaign. It was interesting.”

During his first four years, Piepkorn developed a reputation for vocal opposition to items that other members of the five-person commission favored. For instance, he was a critic of a plan to add bike lanes to University Drive and 10th Street. And he and Williams both opposed an extension of a city sales tax for infrastructure that voters approved in 2012.

Williams, who has also cast many sole dissenting votes, said it is important for city commissioners to speak their minds and offer alternatives.

“Even though you get outvoted, if you make a case and you continue to make that case, pretty soon votes start to change,” Williams said.

Back in the saddle, Piepkorn hopes to become the City Commission’s liaison to the Fargo Dome Authority.

Piepkorn’s office, an old renovated Greyhound bus terminal, is flush with green and gold Bison memorabilia. Piepkorn is a 1984 North Dakota State University graduate and former football player.

That liaison appointment will have to be made by Walaker, who won his third consecutive mayoral term Tuesday after besting City Commissioner Brad Wimmer by about 1,700 votes.

The mayor said he hopes to meet with Piepkorn soon to clear the air.

“We need to get along,” Walaker said. “The city is too damn important to not get along and so forth. We don’t always have to agree. We can agree to disagree, but we can’t make it a personal process.”

Piepkorn said he doesn’t expect any tension with the mayor or the rest of the commission, which includes Tim Mahoney, who was re-elected Tuesday. Mahoney joined Walaker – and Wimmer – in celebrating with Sobolik on election night in 2012.

After his loss two years ago, Piepkorn skipped two post-election city meetings – including his final City Commission meeting, at which fellow commissioners had planned to give him a plaque honoring his years of service.

“I admit I was sad when I lost,” Piepkorn said. “It’s not fun, but then you gotta move on.”

Piepkorn and Mahoney, who won a third consecutive term Tuesday with 29 percent of the vote, will be officially sworn in for a four-year term on June 23.

But Piepkorn said he’s already doing work. He’s got a meeting scheduled with Moorhead Councilwoman Brenda Elmer to talk about the proposed flood diversion and the north side toll bridge that connects the two cities.

He said removing the toll and elevating the bridge to make it less prone to flooding is a top priority.

Getting back into the swing of things shouldn’t be too difficult for Piepkorn. He’s even got a box of old city commissioner business cards that he had made up right before his loss in 2012.

He’s hoping to get his old phone number back so he can keep the old cards. Ever the fiscal conservative, Piepkorn noted that would save some taxpayer money.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

Erik Burgess
Erik Burgess covers city and county government for The Forum. He started as the paper's night reporter in 2012, after graduating from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn. He was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and also spent time interning at the Grand Forks Herald.  Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com
(701) 241-5518
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