City Council pressures northeast Minnesota mayor to resign

A 6-0 vote during a special meeting on Monday was essentially symbolic, but the message was clear

Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson
Two Harbors City Council members voted unanimously Monday to ask Mayor Chris Swanson to step down. Swanson is pictured here with his wife, Rebecca, on June 1 announcing that he will not resign.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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TWO HARBORS, Minn. — At a meeting that only obliquely referred to the allegations against him, officials on Monday asked embattled Mayor Chris Swanson to step down.

City Council members voted 6-0 to ask Swanson to quit his post. Their resolution isn’t legally binding — councilors don’t have the authority to fire Swanson — and the mayor is already set to face a recall election in August, but councilor after councilor repeated essentially the same message: They want him out.

“We have work that needs to be done, and for the last six months it has been nearly impossible for our city to move forward on anything,” Robin Glaser, the council’s vice president, said in a crowded council chambers, claiming it would take years for the city to be respected again. “If the mayor truly cares about the community, he would step down and let the healing begin.”

Swanson himself was absent. He said earlier this month that he does not plan to resign.

Other council members on Monday echoed Glaser’s sentiment, claiming that it had been difficult to conduct city business over the past few months.


“It’s divided us, and I think it’s time for the mayor to resign,” Councilor Miles Woodruff said. Last month, the council voted 6-1 to authorize a recall election later this summer. The lone “no” vote was Swanson himself.

PREVIOUSLY: Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson
The findings were on a range of ethical issues that emerged in light of his underwater-hotel plans.

Each councilor who spoke before and after their symbolic vote Monday stopped short of explicating any specific misgivings with Swanson.

Still, an opinion authored by city attorney Timothy Costley and a certificate submitted to city administrators by petitioners who prompted the August recall vote shed plenty of light.

Costley concluded that Swanson repeatedly used his position “for personal benefit or business interest” and violated Two Harbors’ city code, its communications policy, or both on five separate occasions:

  • An appearance on a podcast to tout his plan for an underwater hotel in Lake Superior
  • A 2017 incident in which Swanson reportedly used information told to him in confidence, as mayor, to influence his wife to buy the Lou’s Fish House building
  • When the mayor used his mayoral email address and title to solicit money for the Friends of the Bandshell Park nonprofit. The organization was reportedly paying Garage Starts, a company that listed Swanson as CEO on its website, to help raise money for a public performing arts center
  • When Swanson solicited investors for the underwater hotel via a website that claimed “Mayor Swanson will be in touch.”
  • And when he tweeted about wanting to create an official Two Harbors cryptocurrency as a source of city revenue and promoted Garage Starts, a company that listed Swanson as its CEO on its website.

The grievances outlined by recall petitioners overlap somewhat with the ones Costley analyzed for the city. They also take issue with the bandshell fundraising, the website, Lou’s purchase, and the podcast appearance, but allege “serious malfeasance” on Swanson’s part in two further instances:

  • When he urged the council to vote to authorize a letter of support for the city to host the Festival of Sail about a month after his daughter formed a nonprofit to organize the event. 
  • And when Swanson “repeatedly promoted” on Twitter a nonprofit for which he was a board member.
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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