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Former candidates not ready to stop seeking ways to serve Rochester area

Majority of Rochester and Olmsted County candidates who didn't find success on the ballot Tuesday said they will continue to look for ways to participate in local government.

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Vangie Castro speaks about inclusion during a Rochester Public Schools School Board meeting on August 3, 2021, at the Edison Administration Building in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Vangie Castro doesn’t plan to let an Election Night defeat slow efforts to seek change in the community.

As chair of the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission, Castro was a rarity among city and county candidates as someone who has served on a local government board before filing for office in May.

It’s something the two-time Rochester City Council candidate said is important for more people to consider.

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“I do encourage and support more BIPOC folks to apply for city and county boards and commissions,” Castro said, using the acronym for Black, Indigenous and people of color. “As the saying goes, ‘If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.’ So, if we aren't in decision-making positions, there will always be people who don't know us or our lived experiences making decisions for us.”

Saida Omar, who ran for the Ward 5 City Council seat, said losing to incumbent Shaun Palmer also didn’t dampen her desire to be involved in the community.

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“I am still interested in making Rochester very inclusive and welcoming for all,” said the first-time candidate, adding that she recently joined the Lowertown Neighborhood Association Board and would welcome any opportunity to serve on local government boards.

Mayor Kim Norton said she'd like to see some of the local candidates who didn’t win Tuesday consider applying for local city boards and commissions, especially if it helps diversify the opinions heard by the City Council.

At the same time, she said she doesn’t plan to reach out directly to former candidates.

“We have to be really careful that we don’t get into a position where the mayor and City Council hand-select people for committees,” she said. “I think that gets dangerous.”:

Instead, she encourages all residents to consider applying for a seat on a board or commission that helps advise the City Council. She said it can help lead to other things, pointing to the fact she and council members Nick Campion and Patrick Keane started by serving on local boards and committees.

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"Future Voter!" stickers on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Karl Johnson, who unsuccessfully sought to replace incumbent Olmsted County Commissioner Gregg Wright, said he realizes that he could have benefited from such experience.

“As I reflect, my approach to the position was aggressive, sidestepping important community involvement,” he said of his District 3 campaign. “My heart is in the correct place.”

Like the majority of the candidates for Rochester council and Olmsted County commissioner seats, he said he’s not ruling out another run for office, but he is planning to take time and find other ways to serve the community, gain experience and build relationships.

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Britt Noser, who challenged Norton for the mayor’s seat, said he’s not sure what’s ahead for him, but his run for office has sparked a desire to be more involved in his community.

“I certainly have a heightened interest now and a deeper knowledge,” he said, adding that he might seek to help others run for office or simply find new avenues to encourage people to learn what’s happening in City Hall.

Catherine Davis, who held a variety of community positions before filing as a candidate for county commissioner said her next step could be seeking a position on a local government board or commission since elected office isn’t in the cards at this point.

So did Gabe Perkins, who said he found his county commissioner campaign against Sen. Dave Senjem to be informative.

“It was a grassroots campaign, and we knocked on as many doors as we could and listened to the voters' concerns,” he said. “I learned a lot and met some wonderful people. I gave the former (Senate) majority leader a run for his money.”

Loring Stead, who unsuccessfully ran for the District 1 county commissioner seat, was among two candidates — joining Omar — who said he’s hoping to be on another ballot.

“I was totally invigorated by the process, I will definitely run again.” he said, adding that he’s learned what works and what doesn’t in a campaign.

How to apply

Rochester residents looking to serve on a city board or commission can submit applications on the city’s website: rochestermn.gov/government/boards-and-commissions .

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Questions about the process should be directed to Michon Rogers at mrogers@rochestermn.gov or at 507-328-2700.

Olmsted County residents seeking to serve on a county board or commission can submit applications on the county’s website: olmstedcounty.gov/government/volunteer-opportunities/volunteer-board-application .

Questions about the process should be directed to Clara Sifuentes at clara.sifuentes@olmstedcounty.gov or at 507-328-6008.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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