Many aspects of political campaigning, from parades to greeting voters with handshakes, have been off limits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Rochester City Council hopefuls have found several opportunities to share their views through modified candidate forums.
Along the way, they have honed their introductions to help define themselves, their campaigns and their goals.
Here’s a look at how the candidates presented themselves at one of the most recent forums, which was hosted online last week by In the City of Good, a grassroots community organization:
City Council president
Carlson, owner of North Sky Health Consulting, started her opening comments by noting she moved back to Rochester to raise her children and be close to her parents.
“I also did so because I want to focus my work in a community I’m so deeply passionate about,” said the John Marshall High School graduate. “These are incredibly difficult times that will require really tough decisions to move us forward.”
She pointed to experience in urban planning, geography and public health to address inequities and improve communities.
Castro, a community organizer, said progressive ideas and change for Rochester will require leadership for implementation.
“I believe we do need change, and that means changing the face of leadership in Rochester because as we move forward the future’s demographic is changing,” she said, adding that the city needs to heal amid the pandemic and efforts to address racism.
A childhood immigrant from the Philippines, she has worked for the Diversity Council, Planned Parenthood and Fair Vote Minnesota.
Harrington, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, said she arrived in Rochester 10 years ago for a job at Mayo Clinic and fell in love with the city.
“I think Rochester is a great community,” she said. “I chose to make it my permanent home, but we’ve seen a vulnerability here, a fiscal and economic vulnerability that we never thought would happen. The results of that and the impact of George Floyd’s death have shone a bright light on serious and painful gaps we have in our community.”
She said she wants to promote economic recovery for all, to make the city inclusive and push for a high and sustainable quality of life for all.
Bransford, a Mayo Clinic software engineer, opted to focus on his reasons for running rather than his background in his introduction.
“I think my commonsense approach to growing the city is resonating: Stop the false narrative of sprawl and concentrate on a far greater diversity in housing. If we don’t, the people we wish to attract will quickly realize they can afford to work here but they won’t be able to afford to live here.”
He said he wants to help repair relationships with the county and school board to create a vibrant, attractive city, which will rely on businesses, restaurants and the arts.
Welte, the owner of Med-City CPR/First Aid, launched her introduction with some background.
“I’m a third generation here in Rochester, my children are fourth and my grandkids are fifth. I love this city with all my heart.” she said, adding that she and her husband have “flipped” nearly condemned buildings to create affordable rental homes.
She also has worked with childcare workers in large cities, represented local food service workers and has been an active volunteer in the community.
Wojcik, the sitting Ward 2 council member since 2008, used the time to highlight his efforts in the past 12 years.
“I’ve served the community in that time with a fierce independent streak,” he said. “There are a lot of people who talk the talk when it comes to getting issues done and taking on the establishment. I’ve walked that walk and had success.”
He outlined sustainability, transit and housing as key issues for his campaign.
Brito, a Home Choice sales manager, outlined his path to Rochester, which included growing up in California and Guadalajara, Mexico.
He added that community involvement is important to him.
“I came to Rochester about two years ago, and I fell in love with the city,” he said. “It is my new home, and with my experiences and my skills I want to represent (the residents of Ward 4).”
Calkins, chief strategy officer at CWS Inc., highlighted his connection to Rochester, noting his family has lived in the Slatterly Park area for nearly nine years.
“Rochester has been a place I’ve called home for almost 15 (years),” he said, adding that he’s running to be a strong leader and voice for residents.
“I intend to work hard for my neighborhood, for all residents in Ward 4, until they are heard and feel included,” he added
Kelly Rae Kirkpartick
Kirkpatrick, the owner of a landscape design company, said she’s running to continue serving the community.
“I have been serving the Eastside Neighborhood Association for about two years, as well as other communities throughout Rochester in advocacy,” she said.
She said hard decisions need to be made to address equity, as well as economic recovery.
Pulham, co-owner of Air Insanity Indoor Trampoline Park, highlighted her roots as a native of the region, as well as being a wife and mother and having a former banking and finance career.
“Before this year, I had no desire to run for city council, but this year’s been a tough year for everybody,” she said. “As a business owner, we all felt lost, scared, unsure of what tomorrow is going to bring.”
She said the lack of a plan and support sparked her desire to seek office.
Bailey, a social worker for the public defender's office, highlighted his community experience and background.
In addition to working with low-and middle-class clients, he is working on a PhD in social and community services. He has also served on the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, the local Third District Equal Justice Committee, the Minnesota Teen Challenge Advisory Committee and the Olmsted County Corrections Advisory Committee, as well as working to change the name of East Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
“I’ve done various things here locally in the community and am very proud of what I’ve been able to do in leadership,” he said.
Dennis, a Rochester Public Schools special education paraprofessional, said her experience teaching overseas showed her the importance of democracy and representing residents.
She also pointed to volunteer efforts at Mayo Clinic Hospice to highlight how things are often interrelated and residents have various needs in the community.
“I am an advocate for a fully integrated comprehensive system to address the barriers to access to resources,” she said. “I’m also running to amplify the voices of the unrepresented.”
Pisarski, a certified public accountant and retired Army officer, highlighted his experience in government as a certified fraud examiner with the office of the Legislative Auditor in Minnesota.
“I understand government,” he said. “I also understand government oversight.”
He also cited his community engagement as a board member of the Lotus Health Foundation and a volunteer helping the Rochester Korean War Veteran’s Club.
Rigby, a retired certified public accountant, said he’s running on a platform of frugal finances, smart and strategic partnerships, and green living and green industry amid an effort to address changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. .
“My approach on city council to make a new normal better would be not to rush things, but insist that the proposed rebuilding and programs be thought out in terms of compassion and help for individuals and businesses,” he said.
“I don’t want more bureaucracy; I want smarter bureaucracy,” he added.
Ugland, a real estate agent, said one of his main goals is to regain community trust in the city council.
“The focus of my campaign is improved communication and cooperation between our city government, county government, city employees and our community,” he said.
A city native raising a family in the ward he grew up in, he said the city must focus on the basic issues of safety, public works and infrastructure, parks and trails and economic development.
Dierks, a Transportation Security Administration security officer, hasn’t attended candidate forums, citing his work schedule as a conflict.
When asked about his absence, the Rochester resident for more than 30 years said his job helps him connect with others who are also working essential jobs during the pandemic.
“I’ve been able to be out in the community, listening to the people and their concerns, concerns like maintaining and building a safer community, getting the taxpayers’ money spent in the communities they live in, and improving the city parks,” he said.