By Peter Passi on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:21 a.m.
Emily Larson will be the first woman to lead Duluth after voters overwhelmingly elected her as the city’s next mayor on Tuesday.
“I think together, as a community, we have changed the face of leadership in a way that’s going to really benefit girls and women for generations to come,” Larson said Tuesday night, moments after learning of her election victory.
Larson, who is president of the Duluth City Council, handily won election over her opponent, Chuck Horton. She captured 71.9 percent of the votes cast Tuesday to his 27.5 percent, with 0.6 percent of ballots listing write-in candidates, according to unofficial results issued by the city clerk’s office Tuesday night.
Horton, a 49-year-old former boxing coach and promoter now entering the chemical dependency counseling field, ran strongest in Duluth’s western neighborhoods, receiving 36 percent of the vote in Precinct 33 (the Morgan Park area).
But Larson took the day, finishing well ahead of Horton in almost every other precinct.
Reflecting on the results, Larson said: “That margin is humbling and it’s gratifying. We worked really hard across the city to get these numbers.”
She said she is well aware that her big victory carries with it high expectations.
“People have been working with our campaign in the hope that this isn’t just about trying to get somebody elected to office, but it’s also about getting things done. I am really motivated by that win margin to get a lot of good work done with our neighborhoods and with the city.”
Despite his defeat, Horton said he had no regrets about his candidacy.
“I feel like I’ve grown so much as a person in this whole endeavor. First off, congratulations to Emily. I think that’s wonderful we’ve got our first woman mayor in Duluth. I think that’s historic, and I’m very happy for her and her family,” he said.
“She’s a very nice lady. We disagree politically on some issues, but she’s still a very nice person,” Horton said. “My first and foremost thing that I’m proud of is bringing to light the seriousness of the drug issue that’s happening in Duluth.”
In January, Larson, a 41-year-old consultant, will succeed Mayor Don Ness, who chose not to seek re-election after two terms of service. Ness enjoyed immense popularity and became the city’s first mayor to run for re-election with no opposition in 2011.
At the Rainbow Senior Center, Hillside resident Nancy Peaslee said Larson will have big shoes to fill. Peaslee said she understood that Ness no longer desired to serve as mayor, but that didn’t stop her from wishing she could re-elect him.
“If I could have written Donny Ness’ name on every line (of the ballot), I would have. We’re going to miss him big time,” Peaslee said.
Larson entered the mayoral race in December, and Horton launched his bid about five months later.
“If I would have had more time, who knows. I jumped into the race late compared to my opponent. I had to really come from behind,” Horton said.
“I just want to thank the community,” Larson said. “I understand that people put a lot into their vote. People in Duluth think a lot about who they’re voting for and why. They’ve put their faith and their trust in me, and I’m going to work very hard to maintain that.”
Posted on Nov 4, 2015 at 11:45 p.m.
Tuesday’s election left little doubt. Most of us are pleased with the way things are going and with where Duluth is heading: Our enviably low 3.2 percent unemployment, our nearly $2 billion of development and construction either underway or soon to be, violent crime at its lowest level in five years and City Hall’s vastly improved financial picture among the many reasons for optimism — and for the way Tuesday’s vote went down.
Duluth didn’t just pick the mayoral candidate who held the most promise of maintaining our momentum and building on all the good going on; voters screamed for her. They demanded Emily Larson take over. Currently the City Council president and a member of the Duluth Economic Development Authority, Larson won the mayor’s race by a nearly 3-to-1 landslide margin. She took every single one of the 34 precincts in a city that had never before elected a woman mayor. The moment was as significant as it was decisive.
In the same way, voters picked City Council candidates who embraced outgoing Mayor Don Ness’ many successes and the foundation those achievements provide in assuring the prospects of a positive future. Gary Anderson scored a decisive 62 percent to 38 percent victory in eastern Duluth’s 1st District. Together, Elissa Hansen and Noah Hobbs took nearly 70 percent of the vote to easily win two open At Large seats.
Only incumbent 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle was able to buck the trend, grabbing 56 percent of the western Duluth vote. He remains a welcome check and balance on an otherwise overwhelmingly liberal body.
Even the way we’re already voting received a strong endorsement from the electorate Tuesday. A ballot measure to switch to a rank-the-candidates system was soundly defeated 15,564 to 5,271. That’s a nearly 3-to-1, leaves-no-doubt margin.
The way we’re doing things is working. It’s working just fine, thank you. That’s the message Duluth voters sent Tuesday.
Negative naysayers might counter that the vote was for the status quo. But “status quo” suggests stagnancy and apathy, something negative in the absence of positive. Duluth is anything but stagnant right now, and there are plenty of positives on which we’re already building. Our tax base is growing after decades of decline. Our population of young people ages 25 to 34 is increasing, bucking a trend many thought would never be reversed. And we’ve solved our sewer-overflow problem, retiree health care crisis and financial woes: The city’s general fund debt has been reduced by 40 percent, and what had been a reserve-fund deficit is now a healthy surplus.
Tuesday’s vote was an endorsement for the turnaround and a call for the rebound to continue after those dark days of industrial and economic collapse in the 1970s and ’80s. No way we want to go back. That’s what we said at our polling places Tuesday. We like our newfound swagger and the positive ways the rest of the country is starting to see Duluth.
Tuesday’s election left little doubt.
By Tom Homan from Duluth on Oct 28, 2015 at 7:08 p.m.
Several weeks ago I sat with a group of community-minded friends to engage in conversation with Emily Larson. We reflected on her candidacy to lead our city as mayor. None of us knew her personally.
She looks you in the eye and listens carefully. Her clear-minded responses reflected judgment, poise and unerring civility. She values transparency. She engages hot issues (streets, downtown development, housing, schools, welfare, crime, transportation) with care and solicits the views of others.
As mayor she can be counted on to set a quick pace, sustain momentum and capitalize on Duluth’s strengths. She will lead with distinction in St. Paul to engage state government on our behalf. She will vigorously pursue investment opportunities both within the U.S. and internationally.
She knows city government from the inside and evinces a clear understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. Larson cares deeply about education and family concerns such as safety, health and recreation. She models fitness.
Emily Larson has found the right challenge to engage her considerable talents.
Posted on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:48 p.m.
I live in West Duluth and am excited about the city’s interest in development and revitalization in the corridor from the ore docks all the way to Fond du Lac. We who live in this part of the city know of the great neighborhoods, schools, businesses and natural spaces that we are so close to and appreciate.
We have a great opportunity in the upcoming election to elect city councilors and a mayor who will be actively involved in these new developments. I will be voting for Janet Kennedy to represent the 5th District, Noah Hobbs At Large and Emily Larson for mayor.
Kennedy and Hobbs both live in West Duluth and will be strong advocates for the western part of Duluth. They will seek out neighborhood involvement during decision-making and, most importantly, will be actively engaged during the planning of these developments in the western neighborhoods.
Larson has pledged to be a mayor for all of Duluth and to ensure that no neighborhoods go neglected while others thrive.
Join me in voting for Janet Kennedy, Noah Hobbs and Emily Larson for a strong and thriving West Duluth.
Posted on Oct 21, 2015 at 10:21 p.m.
By so many measures, these are heady days for Duluth. More of us are working. Violent crime is at its lowest level in five years. In City Hall, what had been a crippling $15 million-a-year retiree health care liability is now a manageable $9 million annual expense, and what had been a reserve fund $1.5 million in the hole is now a healthy $7.5 million in the bank.
Duluth has swagger, and others are noticing. Big-time employers like AAR Aircraft Services and Maurices are investing tens of millions of dollars in Duluth. And the growing, rebounding city is receiving accolades for everything from our abundance of outdoor activities to our livability to how easy it is to get around.
A vote for Emily Larson for mayor on Nov. 3 is a vote for maintaining our momentum and for continuing our prospects for prosperity.
“We have incredible, incredible momentum under way in Duluth right now (with) nearly $2 billion of construction projects either underway or in the pipeline. (And we have a) lower-than-the-state-average, lower-than-the-national-average unemployment rate,” Larson said at a candidate forum last week at the Playhouse theater. “Now is the time to continue to build on our momentum. The state looks at the city of Duluth very differently than they did five years ago and 10 years ago, and that’s critically important because that translates into local government aid, that translates into bonding. What we need is leadership that’s experienced and ready and steady and prepared to continue to grow that momentum.”
Larson has leadership experience and the qualifications to be Duluth’s next mayor.
She’s our current Duluth City Council president with a depth of knowledge about city operations, finances, opportunities and challenges and with contacts and relationships from City Hall to St. Paul that can benefit our city and help keep Duluth moving forward.
She’s a commissioner on the Duluth Economic Development Authority, which has played a key role in lowering unemployment while encouraging reinvestment. She understands that attracting and keeping job-creating businesses and industry requires the city to be a reliable, honest and consistent partner, not an open wallet.
She has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota Duluth and has worked to help homeless families in Duluth as well as families at risk of homelessness. And she’s a small-business owner, operating a consulting firm.
Last year Larson was a leader of an independent engineering study that determined Duluth’s downtown public library was in need of tens of millions of dollars worth of work. When it quickly became clear there wasn’t public support for such an outlay, Larson showed true leadership by stepping back.
“I have been a champion, a very public champion, of libraries for a variety of reasons,” she said last week. “I will always be a champion for having a strong library downtown. And if the community does not have an appetite to move forward with a brand new building, I think that’s fine. But we can’t ignore the fact that we actually have a building that has significant needs.”
Taking action to address significant needs may not always be popular. Larson has proven herself a collaborator and consensus-builder. As mayor she’ll need to be decisive, too, even when not everyone agrees — much the way Mayor Don Ness was with retiree health care. Larson has had her moments, too. In 2012, she supported changes to the city’s civil service code in the face of stiff opposition and criticism of her from the unions and DFL, which had endorsed her.
Larson promises a strong stand, too, on crime as well as Duluth’s growing heroin and mental-health problems. She knows what’s working and that more needs to be done.
“As a city councilor I authored a resolution to remove the methadone clinic licensing on Central Entrance because it was contributing to (Duluth’s heroin) problem,” she said. “We have an award-winning drug task force that is active on this issue. We have community policing that works in partnership with many, many community entities, including drug court, probation, the Human Development Center and other mental-health entities. I believe we are on the path of a holistic approach to addressing the drug issue and other crime issues.”
Larson’s opponent on Nov. 3 is Chuck Horton, a combat veteran and a boxing promoter, trainer and manager.
“We have to grow our tax base,” Horton said at the forum, which was sponsored by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and the News Tribune. “My experience is from the business world. I come from a background of being able to build relationships with my sponsors, with venues, (and) with everything that involves that effort. And I found a way over the years to have win-win relationships.
“Here I am,” he continued. “Judge me. But judge me for everything I have done in this community.”
Voters can judge both candidates for mayor, and the better option becomes clear: Emily Larson, a leader with experience, infectious enthusiasm, optimism, and a commitment to be inclusive and transparent.
“I believe we can continue the momentum that we have while ensuring that the next chapter is a place where we can all prosper together,” Larson said. “I understand what’s at stake. … We have the opportunity to continue to move forward as a city, to build with experience and momentum, and to ensure that we’re not leaving anyone behind.”
Posted on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:57 p.m.
I am supporting Emily Larson for mayor because she demonstrates proven leadership for all of Duluth. As the current City Council president and as a Duluth Economic Development Authority commissioner, she would bring elected experience to the mayor’s job along with established relationships with local and statewide leaders. Her experience as an At Large city councilor and her strong citywide support in the primary election indicate Larson can break down divisions between neighborhoods and neighbors. She will provide steady, consistent and reliable leadership in recognizing, affirming, and building upon the strengths of our city.
Please join me in voting for Emily Larson for mayor of Duluth on Nov. 3; I believe we will be proud to have her as our mayor.
By Emily Larson on Oct 11, 2015 at 12:10 a.m.
Since announcing my candidacy in December for Duluth mayor, I’ve worked to connect with as many residents as possible. All across the city, I’ve had the chance to share, thousands of times, why I’m running. I’ve spent hours every week at your doorsteps. Our conversations together have been both honest and interesting, and your input has made me a stronger and better leader.
We are in the final weeks of what has been a nearly yearlong campaign and rather than feeling tired or worn down, I am more energized than ever about the vision so many of us share for Duluth.
The work of mayor is serious business. There is no glossing over our challenges for funding streets, ensuring a strong housing portfolio and continuing to build an economy that works for everyone.
I’m running for mayor because I understand these challenges, and because these challenges deserve real solutions built in cooperation with our city staff, neighborhood allies, and community and business partners.
I’m running for mayor because our current strategies for economic development are strong, successful, taking hold and need to be expanded so more people, businesses and neighborhoods can benefit.
I’m running for mayor because we have key relationships that need healing, and we’ll need leadership that can effectively engage partners in order to leverage assets toward shared goals.
I’m running for mayor because a successful future will require a champion who will work to ensure that all of our residents benefit from our city’s next chapter.
The work of mayor doesn’t happen entirely in an office, and it doesn’t happen as a solo effort. Effective mayors work well with others and demonstrate the ability to bring a strong team together. Effective mayors also lead by example, providing the steady, collaborative tone required to lead 855 staff, to serve a city of diverse neighborhood interests and identities, to support growing industries and to expand our tax base. There is no replacement for reliable and experienced leadership at the top of any organization.
Duluth needs leadership that is ready to go in January; leadership that understands the budget and how to create financial priorities; leadership that has established working relationships with our county commissioners, state legislators and other key elected stakeholders; leadership that prioritizes the daily experiences of all our residents; and leadership that is proactive, informed and effective.
Right now I’m working for you as an At-Large city councilor, as City Council president, and as a commissioner on the Duluth Economic Development Authority. It’s likely that during this time I’ve made decisions you’ve supported, and it’s just as likely I’ve made decisions you haven’t . Either way, I have been responsive to your questions, understanding of your opinion and transparent in my viewpoint. Because that is leadership. It’s not about always agreeing, and it’s not about shutting out those who disagree. It’s about working to find common points of interest through dialogue and shared vision.
Thank you for opening your doors to me throughout this campaign. Thank you for challenging me and for educating me on what’s important to you. I am grateful to you and for the many ways our conversations have shaped me and this vision for Duluth. I’m eager for us to begin writing Duluth’s next chapter together, but I’ve got one more request: My name is Emily Larson. I’m running for mayor of Duluth, and I ask for your vote on Nov. 3.
By Peter Passi on Oct 10, 2015 at 10:02 p.m.
Shortly after her election to the Duluth City Council in 2011, mayoral hopeful Emily Larson found herself at odds with what had been some of her most ardent supporters from the local labor community. Although they had campaigned vigorously for Larson, organized labor leaders took her and a handful of other councilors sharply to task over their support for a package of civil service reforms proposed by Mayor Don Ness’ administration.
It was a difficult time for a young councilor just cutting her political teeth, but Larson said: “I look back now and I’m actually really grateful for the opportunity it gave me to figure out who I was going to be as a public servant and how I wanted to do my work.”
Larson, 41, said she followed her conscience but never stopped listening.
“I feel like I grew a lot through that in a way that’s been really productive and that has helped me become much more effective. What I’ve learned about leadership, especially for myself, is that there are a lot of decisions I’ve made that people have supported — whether that’s a neighborhood, or a business or labor — and I’ve also had decisions that each one of those groups have opposed or have not supported,” she said.
Larson said the City Council often finds itself faced with challenging decisions.
“The reality is that most issues you get coming at you are very, very gray, and at the council level, things often need to be a yes or a no … almost a black or a white answer. But the reality is most often there is something in the middle, and I’ve found many times that’s a space where I can operate sometimes, in that gray area, trying to see not only if there’s a compromise but to fully explore the complexities of an issue,” she said.
After a withering round of criticism, Larson said she and fellow councilors continued to plug away at the the civil service reforms.
They were revisited and revised with the help of a study group that made several recommendations, some of which were then used to tweak the city code.
Larson said the experience reinforced her belief that leaders don’t back away from conflict.
“I’ve never shied away from that. And it’s one of the things I’m most proud of in myself,” she said. “If there’s a conflict, I don’t avoid it. I walk right toward it, and approach it as an opportunity to either get closer to the opposing viewpoint and have a better understanding or an opportunity to at least share what my values are regarding the issue.”
Larson acknowledged that some of her decisions on the Duluth City Council are destined to disappoint certain constituents.
“This work is challenging. Duluth is very engaged with its policymakers. So I’m very used to people being candid and honest with me about their opinions,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to do that or I’m going to agree, but I’ve learned to how to be really present with that and listen and take it in and determine what information I need to make a good decision and then to be really clear about what the decision is, because no one likes surprises.”
Although Larson has made her home in Duluth for the past 24 years, she grew up in St. Paul.
Her mother is a poet and her father worked in the information technology industry. They divorced when Larson was 10 years old, and both parents remarried. Consequently, Larson said, she grew up with four parents, dividing her time between households.
Growing up, she recalls her family dinner table being a place of lively discussion.
“My parents didn’t avoid conversations with kids in the room. If there was an issue, or anyone wanted to talk about current events, it was just all on the table.”
Larson is the youngest of three children in her biological family. She also has two stepbrothers and two stepsisters.
She was introduced to Duluth by rail.
“Duluth was the one vacation we had as a family. We really didn’t have much money. We didn’t have a lot of resources. So Duluth was the big vacation for us,” Larson recalled.
“I remember getting off the train at the depot in Duluth and walking our suitcases down the street to the Holiday Inn. I loved it,” she said.
Larson returned to Duluth at the age of 17 as a freshman at the College of St. Scholastica and never turned back.
“It’s a place where I immediately felt at home,” she said. “You know, you don’t choose where you are born. You don’t choose where your parents raise you. But you do choose your home. And this just felt like home.”
Larson graduated from St. Scholastica with a degree in social work, and quickly put what she had learned to work in her adopted city.
“As a social worker, you have to assess what’s going on. You have to build relationships with people. You have to build trust. You need to develop a plan. You have to know the resources that are out there,” she said.
Larson said her work prepared her well for future challenges.
“It’s actually a perfect training ground for public service, because a lot of that is the same, just applied differently. So I’d done direct social work for many years through CHUM, and I worked with families who were homeless or at risk of being homeless for 12 years. I worked at the drop-in center. So my clients were people and families. And now that same application of public service is there. But your client is different. You’re really applying it to the whole community and where you can have the best impact,” she said.
Larson said she decided to become a policymaker to better get at some of the root problems she saw in her community.
When Larson’s not tending to her duties as a city councilor or nonprofit consultant, you’ll often find her outdoors or engaged in some form of physical activity.
“I spend a lot of time outside. I run. I walk. I do yoga. That’s really important for me actually, just the breathing of it,” she said.
Larson also savors time with her husband, Doug Zaun, a local architect, and their boys, ages 12 and 15.
“We hang out as a family a lot. The four of us are pretty close, and we like to spend a lot of time together. That’s something I didn’t get a chance to do a lot as a kid, when you split your time between two houses. We did joint custody, and that was great, and my parents worked well together and everything was very pleasant … but this idea that you have one home and you get to spend a lot of time together — that’s not something I grew up with, so it’s really nice to have that,” she said.
Larson said she entered the mayoral race nearly a full year ahead of the general election, knowing how much work it would take to build support.
“I do notice that people care very deeply about this race, and they’re very concerned … about what the next administration and what its energy is going to be like. How are we going to keep growing? I hear that from people very clearly,” she said.
After the two terms of popular outgoing Mayor Don Ness, Larson acknowledged many residents have high expectations for whoever wins the election next month.
“Somebody did tell me: Those are really big shoes to fill. And I actually do have really big feet,” said Larson, pointing to her size 10 shoes.
By Tina Welsh from Duluth on Oct 2, 2015 at 2:48 p.m.
I have lived in Duluth for more than 40 years, so I have seen many mayors come and go, but never have I seen a candidate like Emily Larson.
I recently have been teaching a course at the University for Seniors at the University of Minnesota Duluth, “Women in Politics.” One of the conclusions that has become clear to me in doing some research for the class is that we simply do not have enough women in politics.
I support Larson not because she is the only woman in the race but because she is the best prospect for moving ahead with the next chapter for our city. She sees the importance of investing in our community, whether that be in support of our libraries, our small and large businesses, our dog parks or our nonprofit sector. Larson understands “we all do better when we all do better,” as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone said in a speech in 1999 to a sheet metal worker’s union.
In her leadership as president of the Duluth City Council, she has shown the temperament, patience and wisdom that will serve her well as mayor of the city of Duluth. She has my vote.
By News Tribune on Sep 4, 2015 at 7:55 p.m.
As a Denfeld resident and as a nearly life-long Duluthian, I’m excited for our community’s potential with Emily Larson serving as our mayor. Larson has demonstrated throughout her lifetime of professional and public service in Duluth that she has the skills to be an outstanding mayor.
Any candidate for office — and, really, any Duluthian — can point out the challenges our community is facing. But being an effective leader requires more than just pointing at our problems. Leadership requires the ability to critically assess solutions that meet the needs of stakeholders and then implement a response that is measurable and sustainable.
As a city councilor, Duluth Economic Development Authority commissioner, professional consultant for nonprofit organizations and engaged community volunteer, Larson has repeatedly done just that. Time after time, she has demonstrated her ability to engage partners around difficult issues in order to leverage resources toward a shared goal. I believe Duluth’s continued success will require leadership Larson exemplifies, which is inclusive and empowering rather than cynical and combative.
I encourage Duluthians to vote Emily Larson for mayor this fall to help write Duluth’s next chapter together.