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Port: Fargo City Commissioner mocks Native Americans, tells homeless people to 'get a job'

Was this brash, braying boob really the best Fargo's voters could do?

Dave Piepkorn
Fargo (N.D) City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MINOT, N.D. — Dave Piepkorn, who was just re-elected to another term on Fargo's city commission earlier this year, is a crude sort of bully.

This isn't news to anyone who has paid attention to Fargo city politics. The editorial board at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead even kinda sort endorsed him for it.

"Piepkorn has become the commission’s most unflinchingly outspoken member," the paper wrote by way of explaining their decision to favor the incumbent for another term. "Whether you agree or disagree, Piepkorn makes clear what he supports and what he doesn’t."

Unfortunately, at last night's meeting of the city commission, Piepkorn was "unflinching" in his use of coarse stereotypes, complaining about “intoxicated Native Americans” during a public safety debate.

He was "clear" when he told the people who use Fargo's downtown Engagement Center, people who are afflicted with mental health challenges and addictions and homelessness, to "get a job."

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There were 14 other candidates for city commission .

Was this brash, braying boob really the best Fargo's voters could do?

When Piepkorn was up for re-election he was a useful tool for a certain faction of Fargo politics. At the time he was directing his insults and derision toward Republicans. Specifically, Jim Roers, a developer, and state senator, and Shannon Roers Jones, his daughter, a state representative in her own right who was also running for mayor.

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With incumbent mayor Tim Mahoney looking on, Piepkorn dragged Jim Roers through the mud, throwing a tantrum over a routine adjustment to a tax increment financing agreement Roers had struck to the city that, once the mayoral election had passed, the city commission quietly approved without any churlish grandstanding.

The baseless, insulting accusations Piepkorn lobbed at the Roers — he accused them of lying and trying to bilk the taxpayers — ended up being a significant factor in the mayoral race, which Mahoney ended up winning.

And, apparently, that was OK, as long as Piepkorn was aiming his invective at the right sort of target.

But now Piepkorn, who tried to play the victim during his re-election campaign when his critics highlighted an incident in which he flipped off another city commissioner, has become an embarrassment to those who supported him.

Maybe Piepkorn has a point about public safety in downtown Fargo. Maybe he's right that the downtown area isn't the right place for a homeless shelter. But there is a way to make those arguments without punching down at people who need help, or resorting to hackneyed racial slurs.

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Even if you find yourself in agreement with Piepkorn, do you really think he's the best advocate for your position? Do you think his insults and bullying, and all the controversy it stokes, makes it more or less likely that he'll advance it?

Public service is no place for an insult comic. Politics is about persuasion, and while sometimes that means throwing some sharp elbows, it should never include belittling and demeaning our most vulnerable neighbors.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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