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Doty Returned to Office
By Amy Radil
November 3, 1999
Part of MPR Online's "Campaign '99" coverage.
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Election results in Duluth brought significant turnover among city council and school board members, with both bodies likely taking on a more labor-friendly and liberal tone. But labor-endorsed candidates did not sweep either body, and some extremely-close votes had candidates pondering the mixed messages voters sent. The elections for mayor and state legislature were more sweeping: Mayor Gary Doty easily won a third term, and DFLer Dale Swapinski won Willard Munger Senior's former legislative seat by a wide margin.

TIMES ARE PRETTY GOOD in Duluth. Unemployment is low, some new businesses are getting started in town, tourism is growing, and voters responded Tuesday by returning incumbent Mayor Gary Doty to office for a third term. Doty defeated Greg Gilbert, a city council member who focused largely on some of the city's contentious development projects, including a downtown building known as the Technology Village. Doty says his re-election is a vindication for the city-subsidized project and he expects to announce some tenants for the building in the next two weeks. He says bringing jobs to town will be his top priority this term.
Doty: Develop the aviation aspects of our community, tourism, infrastructure improvements, development of a labor force, because that's the key to bringing jobs into our community is development of a labor force.
Although he is a Democrat, Doty did not receive the DFL endorsement. He was endorsed by all the city's labor groups. Alan Netland heads the Duluth Central Labor Body AFL-CIO. He says relations with Doty were strained because of Doty's opposition to a living-wage ordinance in the last few years, but since then Doty has been conscientious about improving his relationship with the city's unions.
Netland: We've had some difficulties in the past; there's no question about that, and he recognized those and made a determined effort to improve those relationships particularly over the past two years.
Doty will be working with a new city council that will likely look favorably upon labor concerns, and may have very different slants than he does on issues such as business development. One new council member has the support of the Chamber of Commerce, while three new members are labor-endorsed. One of those members, Russ Stewart, says differences of opinion are likely but he hopes to keep things amicable.
Stewart: I'm sure some of us will have our disagreements with him but I hope we can keep it civil, I certainly will keep it civil, one of my campaign themes has been a call for civility in politics, a need to be more polite in our disagreements and I think we'll get along just fine as long as he's civil too and I think he will be.
The composition of the council still has one more variable, since a replacement must be found for departing member Dale Swapinski. Swapinski was elected to fill the state legislative seat in District 7A, held by Representative Willard Munger for 22 terms until his death earlier this year. Swapinski says he'll try to uphold Munger's standard on environmental issues, but he also plans to be an advocate for jobs and education.
Swapinski: Maybe I'll be a little broader focus than Representative Munger was. We can all be very pleased that we had his representation for as long as we did, we're all reaping the benefits of that.
Labor-endorsed candidates also gained the majority on the Duluth school board, which will likely improve the board's relationship with the teachers union, and mean a tough battle for the Edison charter schools that will seek to have their contract with the board renewed later this year. The board voted to allow Edison to run two Duluth schools two years ago, an unpopular move with the teachers union because Edison does not hire union teachers. [In addition, allowing public school funds to go to a for-profit business has been controversial.

Newly elected board member Gary Krause says the issue can be resolved by having the Edison schools become independent of the Duluth school board.
Krause: But over that one thing where you're struggling with one board when they should have their own independent system, I think it'll take away the one neighbor having a sign facing the other neighbor and the not talking to each other, it'll just make our community a better place to live if they're running independently.
Krause says he'll be working for smaller class sizes, and to keep neighborhood schools from closing. Duluth voters also approved a $6.6 million dollar bond referendum to restore school athletic facilities.