Zaleski: City election: good, bad, ugly

Zaleski shares thoughts on the outcome of Tuesday's election.

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Several lessons can be gleaned from the results of Tuesday’s (June 14) Fargo city election. There are teachable moments for the losers.

First, and this one’s for mayoral candidate Shannon Roers Jones: Money is not enough to win a local election. Roers Jones outspent her opponents big time, more money to try and buy an election than has ever been spent in a city campaign. Didn’t work. She finished a distant third, in large part because her strategy was doomed when, at a heated commission meeting, it was revealed that Roer’s Development, her father Jim Roers’ company, failed to make good on an agreement to build townhomes as part of the north Fargo Newman Center project. She is the company’s lawyer, so voters said no to her because of the obvious potential for both the appearance and the reality of conflict of interest.

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To make matters worse for Roers Jones, someone (?) took after City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn for his less-than-gracious comments about Jim Roers’ failure to honor the townhomes agreement. Piepkorn called Roers a liar. Within days, mailboxes were stuffed with flyers criticizing Piepkorn for raising his middle finger to Commissioner Tony Gehrig during a debate at City Hall over an unrelated issue. The theme of the flyer was that Piepkorn’s behavior was beneath an elected office holder. But the upshot was that the flyer itself was seen as a down-and-dirty smear that was timed to help Roers Jones’ bid for mayor. It backfired. Roers Jones might not have had anything directly to do with the flyer, but the damage was done. The ugly low-road tactic aimed at Piepkorn was perceived as an attempt to help her win. And to further sour the day for the Roers clan, Piepkorn was re-elected with the second-highest vote total among commissioner candidates. Ouch!

Prominent among the also-rans for City Commission was Jennifer Benson, whose reputation as disrupter-in-chief on the Fargo School Board dogged her city campaign. She was bad for the schools and would have been bad for the city. The good news is that she and her like-minded allies found little support among voters in both city and school balloting. The anti-education, anti-medical science cabal that was running for the School Board also was rejected.

More good news: In unofficial returns, Mayor Tim Mahoney easily bested a record field of six challengers by piling up better than 40% of the vote to win a third four-year term. (There will be adjustments in percentages because of approval voting tally methodology.) Commissioner Arlette Preston was second with 20%. The good news is that her strong, informed voice will remain on the commission. Preston will be joined by newcomer Denise Kolpack, who was top vote getter among 15 commission candidates. She conducted a civil campaign that emphasized substance, insight and pragmatism. Voters liked what they heard. What a refreshing, intelligent presence she will be, in contrast to outgoing Commissioner Gehrig, whose wrong-headed agenda was to stall or reverse the city’s progress.


All in all, a good election day for Fargo. Kinda restores faith in the ultimate wisdom of the voters.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Company . Contact him at or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Zaleski writes about Clay Jenkinson's new book, "“The Language of Cottonwoods: Essays on the Future of North Dakota.” He writes, "It’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking – and highly readable – reveal and critique of a state that has struggled to define its cultural identity from the beginning."

Opinion by Jack Zaleski
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. Contact him at or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.
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