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McFeely: Fargo voters will have good options in June

If Dave Piepkorn and Tony Gehrig want to keep their Fargo City Commission seats, they'll have to earn it.

The June 2018 election is lining up to be a competitive one with several qualified, experienced and recognizable challengers to the two incumbents.

Former three-term commissioner Mike Williams last week announced his candidacy to run for a seat. Williams, who had to give up his spot on the commission because of term limits, has been on the sidelines (although not really) the last two years and said he's ready to serve again.

He's only the first to announce. There will be others, and possibly many others. The two seats currently occupied by Piepkorn and Gehrig are up for election.

Names like Linda Boyd, Tim Flakoll, Joe Burgum and Tammy Linn are being tossed about in political circles. Boyd is a current Fargo School Board member and former city commissioner who will likely announce her candidacy after Christmas. Flakoll is a former state senator from north Fargo who is itching to get back into public service.

Burgum is the son of Gov. Doug Burgum who was nearly elected in June 2016, narrowly finishing third behind winners Tony Grindberg and John Strand. Linn is a Fargo teacher who ran in 2016, but finished eighth in the pack of 11 candidates.

With two seats open, there might be a dozen or more candidates who eventually file.

This is good for the residents of Fargo. Voters will have options if they are unhappy with the work of Piepkorn and Gehrig.

Gehrig will run for re-election. Piepkorn hasn't indicated what he will do. There's a possibility Piepkorn will challenge Mayor Tim Mahoney in June, although that seems a longshot.

Assuming Piepkorn does run for commission, the election might be viewed as a local referendum on Donald Trump. Piepkorn has aligned himself firmly with one of the president's main initiatives — stemming the number of refugees and immigrants. That is the issue Piepkorn, along with Cass County Commissioner Chad Peterson, embraced. He owns it, and his re-election will succeed or fail with it.

Piepkorn was nearly the subject of a recall election over his stance on refugees, and it's a certainty the small but active chapter of local Democratic Socialists, and others, will strongly work against him.

Gehrig has spent his two-plus years on the commission arguing against tax incentives for businesses, and he will likely campaign on a message of slowing the city's budget growth and fighting for lower taxes. His re-election will depend on whether voters are jazzed by those issues. He's firmly cast himself as Dr. No, a consistent and often lone "no" vote, on many issues.

Williams spent 12 years on the commission politically carving out a place on the middle ground — he opposed some tax incentives, most notably the massive Block 9 project downtown — although he generally championed progressive issues like bike-sharing, a circulator bus to connect Fargo to downtown Moorhead and in-filling open space instead of building new housing developments.

Boyd might be the most intriguing challenger. She served on the commission from 2004-08, was deputy mayor for two years under Dennis Walaker and was a force behind getting a new library built downtown. Boyd was a strong advocate for the Gladys Ray Shelter and the Sunrise senior apartments in north Fargo — two projects that faced intense and misguided opposition at the time, but have proven to be success stories.

Boyd lost her re-election bid in 2008 to Piepkorn and Williams — imagine only three candidates running for two open seats — who both used her support for the Gladys Ray project against her. Piepkorn's demagoguery, it seems, isn't limited to refugees.

It's worked for him, as evidenced by election results. He has two victories running for City Commission against only one loss. Voters might decide to elect Piepkorn again. If not, there will be several good choices.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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