FARGO – Dr. Tim Mahoney was celebrating his victory as this city’s new mayor Tuesday night in the same room where 11 months ago he celebrated the mayoral victory of his late friend Dennis Walaker.
“It was a room of good feelings,” he said of his place at the Fargo Holiday Inn.
Mahoney beat former City Commissioner Brad Wimmer 59 percent to 40 percent.
Walaker died in December and Mahoney, his deputy, has been the acting mayor since. Mahoney ran to keep the job on a platform that referenced his ties to the popular former mayor: “Honor the past. Build the future.”
“It’s always nice to become the elected mayor so you know people truly support you,” he said Tuesday.
In margin and in the number of votes, Mahoney had one up on Walaker, who also ran against Wimmer in June. Mahoney had 8,575 of the 14,505 votes cast for mayor. Walaker had 7,731 of the 13,820 votes cast last June for mayor, a margin of 56 percent to Wimmer’s 44 percent.
Wimmer, who garnered 5,853 votes this time and spent a quiet election night taking his wife out to dinner and a movie, said he’s proud to have run a good campaign and brought out some good discussions. He wished his rival the best of luck.
But Wimmer’s not going anywhere. A tireless community organizer, he said his next project is getting an outdoor ice skating rink downtown. He’ll still advocate for flood control and anything else that furthers Fargo, he said.
The term for Fargo mayors is four years, but the winner of this election will finish Walaker’s term, which ends in just over three years. The city pays its part-time mayors $29,442 a year.
It’s the end of a largely cordial campaign for Wimmer and Mahoney, who share similar policy positions and voting records. Until last June, they were both members of the City Commission, where they often sided with Walaker.
For voters, the difference between Mahoney and Wimmer came down to leadership style and personality.
Wimmer, a 61-year-old business owner and a frequent volunteer for community projects, has said he would be a full-time mayor like Walaker and Bruce Furness before him because a city as big as Fargo needs that kind of commitment.
One of the few times he criticized Mahoney was when he called out his rival for taking a part-time job in Fergus Falls, Minn., 60 miles southeast of Fargo.
Mahoney, a 65-year-old surgeon who became one of the stars of the 2009 flood fight with Walaker, said he has always been a 24/7 kind of guy, pointing to those sleepless nights checking in on the city’s flood fighters. He said the mayor’s job is to set the vision and help the city’s excellent staff achieve that vision.
In debate after debate, Mahoney and Wimmer seem to have supported each other’s policies, their answers differing only in the nuances.
“We do agree on fundamental issues,” Wimmer told the audience at the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber debate a couple of weeks ago. “Flood control is one.”
Both he and Mahoney said that’s their top priority. They both support the controversial special assessment that will be used to guarantee a bond to pay for the city’s share of the $1.8 billion flood diversion. The vote on the special assessment has been criticized because the city and Cass County had so many votes that they overrode the votes of all other local governments and property owners.
On issues of growth and economic development, Mahoney and Wimmer agreed implicitly on the goals.
Asked how the city could meet its goal of increasing population density and avoiding sprawl, Mahoney, who lives on the city’s south side, said Fargo can enact policies that make existing neighborhoods more viable.
Typically, this means the city would limit how far it is willing to expand its streets and sewers.
Wimmer, who lives above Wimmer’s Diamonds downtown, said he would draw a line limiting growth as well, perhaps no farther than 76th Avenue South. He would encourage housing in existing neighborhoods to curb that, he said.
Asked about the city’s need for a new City Hall, which, at $31 million, is turning out to be a lot more than budgeted, Wimmer said there is definitely a need because the current building isn’t big enough for all the staff members that need to be in it. There had been some talk of finding a location away from the river to save money, but he said he still thinks downtown is the best.
He and Mahoney were members of the committee that found the site for the building, which will be just northeast of the existing City Hall.