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McFeely: How much is it worth to be elected mayor of Fargo?

$121,000 isn't an exorbitant amount of money in 2022 politics. But this is a local race for an alleged part-time office in a small city of 126,000 people and Roers Jones is vastly outspending her competition, so it's not chump change. It's also humble North Dakota. The optics, one could say, aren't great.

Roers Jones flier.jpg
A flier in support of Fargo mayor candidate Shannon Roers Jones.
Submitted photo
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FARGO — How much is it worth to be the mayor of Fargo? Shannon Roers Jones believes $121,000 or more, which includes $55,100 of her own money.

That was revealed by The Forum's reporting on campaign finance disclosures for the June city electio n. It's something this newspaper looks into each election cycle. Who's spending the most money and where's it coming from? Journalism 101.

One hundred and twenty grand isn't an exorbitant amount of money in 2022 politics. Kevin Cramer's and Heidi Heitkamp's campaigns combined to spend $30 million in their 2018 U.S. Senate race. But this is a local race for an alleged part-time office in a small city of 126,000 people and Roers Jones is vastly outspending her competition, so it's not chump change.

It's North Dakota, where the median household annual income is about half of $121,000 and slightly more than $55,100.

The optics, one could say, aren't great.

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Then again, the optics also aren't great on refusing to say you'll resign your seat in the state legislature if you become mayor of Fargo.

Perhaps it is a weakness of some people of means, but throwing money at something is not always the best path. You can't always buy what you want, and sometimes it's best not to try.

Fargo is still Fargo, after all, where knocking on a door or saying hello in the grocery store might win a vote more than a dozen fliers in a mailbox or another television commercial. Dennis Walaker could've been mayor for 30 years, had he lived long enough and if the law allowed it, and he likely didn't spend more than $3.69 on his campaigns.

Perhaps Roers Jones wins on June 14. With seven candidates on the ballot and approval voting the new way of doing business, how this turns out is anybody's guess. Incumbent Tim Mahoney remains the favorite, but can cash overcome that?

Along with an unabashed partisan endorsement from Gov. Doug Burgum — an extremely wealthy man who is also trying to buy ballot-box success with his political action committee — Roers Jones can boast of having a foursome of heavy hitters backing her candidacy with $10,000 contributions.

They include her father Jim Roers, owner of Roers Construction; Ron Bergan of Fargo, owner of Fargo Assembly; Keith Peltier of West Fargo, owner of Proseed; and Bob Challey, a Walnut Creek, Calif., real estate developer and investor.

These are power brokers, both in Fargo and at North Dakota State University. Challey and the Peltier family have buildings named after them at NDSU.

Roers Jones told The Forum the $121,000 in contributions shows "the tremendous enthusiasm behind our campaign ." With $95,100 coming from herself, her father and three family friends, it certainly shows enthusiasm from them.

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Take out that cash and Roers Jones still raised $25,900. That's less than longshot candidate Hukun Dabar's $32,000 and Mahoney's $29,500, but still plenty to win the office if you have a message and are willing to get sore knuckles from door-knocking.

It isn't as flashy as colorful fliers and TV commercials, but it doesn't need to be. This is Fargo.

We'll find out in three weeks whether cash can buy the mayor's office. The hunch is it can't.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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