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Walaker after winning Fargo mayor race: 'I can't lose'

Fargo, N.D., Mayor Dennis Walaker, right, visits with former N.D. Gov. George Sinner and wife Jane Sinner while waiting for election results Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at the Holiday Inn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

Voters for the third time chose Walaker as Fargo’s mayor on Tuesday. He’ll now serve a final four-year term.

Unlike Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote two speeches in case the D-Day invasion of Normandy failed, Walaker said he never prepared a losing speech.

“I can’t lose,” the mayor said in an interview before delivering that winning speech to a room of supporters at the Holiday Inn.

He’s proven that, winning handily in the 2010 election after beating back the historic flood of 2009, and winning his first term in 2006 despite being largely outspent.

After a contentious race that turned old friends into political foes, Walaker won again Tuesday with 56 percent of the vote, beating challenger and City Commissioner Brad Wimmer, who took 44 percent of the vote, in complete but unofficial results.

“I’ve worked extremely hard developing the support of the majority of people in Fargo,” Walaker said. “And if I would’ve lost, I could’ve gone on to more things with my family, but I’m willing to put in the four years once again.”

“I’m extremely happy,” said the mayor, who netted 7,723 votes to Wimmer’s 6,017.

In an interview late Tuesday, Wimmer said he was disappointed with the results, but he congratulated Walaker.

“I’m going to play some tennis, and I’m going to relax a little bit and see what’s in store next,” said Wimmer, who will leave the City Commission in about two weeks when the newly elected commissioners are sworn in.

Although Walaker and Wimmer have worked side by side for the past eight years on the City Commission, neither one shied away from slinging barbs on the campaign trail.

Walaker, 73, survived what he believed were implicit attacks on his age and health in challenger Wimmer’s “Fargo Fit” campaign slogan, a claim the challenger denied.

Wimmer, 60, who emphasized his energy and passion on the campaign trail, said Walaker would represent Fargo in Bismarck or Washington, D.C., “begrudgingly.” Wimmer argued that Walaker focused too much on flood control and that Fargo needed a fresh vision to stay on top of its game

But Walaker fought those claims, saying flood control is still the city’s top priority. He argued only he had the experience and knowledge of the city to be its leader, pointing to his 17 years of experience as the city’s retired public works operations director.

Walaker consistently emphasized his decision to not evacuate the city at the height of the historic 2009 flood, despite pressure from federal officials to do so. Walaker said Wimmer would not have been experienced enough to make the same call.

“I’ve tried to bring honesty to the job,” Walaker said Tuesday. “I try to speak as straight as I possibly can, and sometimes that irritates people. I understand that. But this election has been for me a lot of fun, a lot of ups and downs in the process.”

Wimmer said he didn’t intend to criticize Walaker throughout the campaign.

“Nothing was intended to be pointed at anybody,” he said. “It was trying to bring out my qualities and character and what I was going to bring to the table as mayor of Fargo.”

Fargo’s mayor is a part-time position, elected to a four-year term and making $29,442 annually.

About 14,030 residents voted on Tuesday, adding to 686 who voted absentee and 3,104 who voted early for a total of 17,820, said Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir.

That’s up from the 12,404 that cast ballots on Election Day in 2010, the last time there was a mayor’s race on the ticket. A total of 15,010 voted in that 2010 primary, including 473 who voted absentee and 2,133 who voted early.

Despite the campaign bickering, Walaker and Wimmer do agree on many big-ticket items. Both said flood control, drought protection and maintaining strong economic growth were among their top priorities.

Wimmer said he’ll go back to running his jewelry store, Wimmer’s Diamonds. He said he’ll stay involved in local politics and issues.

“The city decided to go in a little bit of a different direction, and that’s fine,” he said. “I always abide by the vote of the public.”

Walaker, meanwhile, said the last eight years have been Fargo’s best.

“We want to continue that,” he said.