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Rochester council candidate forum sees empty seats

Only one of three Ward 1 candidates was able to attend League of Women Voters forum.

LWV photo.jpg
Rochester League of Women Voters President Anna Froehling briefs Rochester City Council candidate Daniel Sepeda on forum rules Wednesday, shortly before the League's Ward 1 council forum at the Rochester Public Library.
Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — The day after a League of Women Voters candidate forum had no in-person audience , the candidates’ table was nearly empty Wednesday evening.

The forum for the Ward 1 seat on the Rochester City Council saw only one candidate – Daniel Sepeda – able to attend.

Incumbent council member Patrick Keane had to bow out after receiving a positive COVID test, and challenger Andy Hemenway was attending a previously scheduled family wedding in another state.

On Tuesday, an audience of approximately 60 people was removed from the library auditorium due to members’ violations of the facility’s code of conduct.

A day later, a smaller audience saw the second of three city-candidate forums open with the reading of letters from the two absent candidates.

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“I am dedicated to the people of our community,” Hemenway wrote. “About revitalizing and preserving Rochester’s mission statement of community pride. This can only be obtained through ongoing actions to improve public safety, maintain clean and friendly parks and trails, provide reliable transportation options, preservation of city landmarks and greenspace, and develop an affordable, year-round, family-accessible community center.”

Keane’s letter cited a desire to continue the work he started during his first term representing the city’s southernmost ward.

“I’ve enjoyed my time on council, and I learned quickly how to contribute to an efficient livable city as we work though the many issues that will come up,” he wrote, adding that he regretted missing the opportunity to share his views directly.

It left Sepeda as the sole responder to approximately 25 minutes of questions posed by the League, audience members, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and the Post Bulletin.

He took the opportunity to cast himself as a fiscal conservative seeking to cut taxes when possible.

“I don’t think that the budget should be on the backs of the citizens,” he said, stating he’d likely oppose a future effort to extend the city’s 0.5% sales tax and would seek to rein in spending related to the Destination Medical Center initiative.

“We need to take a look at the (city) budget, and we need to cut,” he said, without citing specific spending reductions.

One area Sepeda said he would not cut is the police department, which he said needs more resources.

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“I think the police department does need to be beefed up and we need to support them more,” he said, pointing to challenges in a growing city.

“When you increase the population, you increase crime exponentially, and as such the burden on them is going to increase, so they are going to need our support,” he said.

Following Wednesday’s forum, League Candidate Forum Chairwoman Ginny Amundson said it was unfortunate that Keane and Hemenway were unable to attend, but it wasn’t the first time a candidate had to miss a forum and it’s not expected to be the last.

She said the goal is to provide a chance for residents to hear from the candidates that are available to attend.

All three candidates were able to compare views during a July 12 candidate forum at 125 Live , and Hemenway and Keane joined Sepeda in discussing budget constraints.

“As long as we stay within the constraints of the budget being set, I think we are doing good,” Hemenway said during the 125 Live event.

Keane said he supports efforts to reduce local tax revenue but pointed out much of the city’s budget is supported by state and federal funds that would be spent in other communities, if Rochester didn’t seek them out.

“I want to get as much of that as I can and bring it to our community,” he said.

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The Ward 1 candidates are on the Aug. 9 primary ballot to narrow the field of candidates to two for the Nov. 8 general elections.

The League of Women Voters has three more forums planned at the Rochester Public Library, featuring candidates on the primary ballot. They are:

  • Ward 3 Rochester City Council candidates at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. 
  • District 4 Olmsted County commissioner candidates at 6:30 p.m. July 27. 
  • District 4 Olmsted County commissioner candidates at 6:30 p.m. July 28. 
Exclusive
The three candidates for the seat were asked about the position and why they decided to run for office.

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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