Rochester City Council president
We suspect that more than a few readers of the Post-Bulletin's Opinions Page have been at least mildly curious about how we're going to handle the race for Rochester City Council president. And with good reason.
We won't go so far as to say that this election is unprecedented — after all, this isn't the first time that a candidate's name has appeared on a ballot after the person has passed away. This is, however, uncharted territory for Rochester. Dennis Hanson's death in late June, combined with the Legislature's passage of a new election law, have created a perfect storm of problems for candidates, voters and city officials.
Our editorial board has had a lot of discussions about how best to approach a race that includes one "official" candidate, one fairly well-known write-in candidate and a deceased incumbent whose family would have preferred to remove his name from the ballot but was legally prohibited from doing so.
We opted to try to treat this race as we would any other. We interviewed Jan Throndson, who says he'd bring "transparency and accountability" to city government. We interviewed write-in candidate Jeff Thompson, who sells himself as a "stay the course" guy who admired Hanson but doesn't want to see the city stuck with the bill for another election, or even two.
And finally, we sat down with some members of the Hanson family, who explained that they are not trying to "Win one more for Denny" — they simply want voters to have a clearer choice in a special election, which presumably would include some candidates who admired Hanson and never would have considered opposing him when he held the seat. They also told us that some people are confused about what's happening, to the point that Hanson's widow, Linda Hanson, has had to explain to them that she's NOT running for the post her husband held.
It's an impossible situation for nearly everyone involved — impossible and unfair. Throndson has no choice but to campaign as if he's unopposed, even though he is not. Thompson didn't have any interest in unseating Hanson, but suddenly his options were to sit on the sidelines and hope for a special election, or wage a last-minute write-in campaign. Meanwhile, the Hanson family is in limbo, trying to do what they think is best for the city and the ideals that Denny represented.
We will make no endorsement in this race.
This doesn't mean the Post-Bulletin will ignore this important contest. Our reporting staff will offer profiles of Throndson and Thompson, and we encourage readers to read them carefully. Ultimately, if you like what you see in one of them, then by all means vote for that candidate.
But if you don't like what you see — or if you do but would still like to see other candidates on the ballot — then don't worry about the possible cost of a special election. Rochester is a big city, and even if two special elections were necessary, at a total cost of $120,000, the city's budget wouldn't be broken. If that's the cost for citizens to get the right person into the president's chair, then so be it.
Rochester has what's known as a "weak mayor system," which means the city council president is the most powerful person in town. This person doesn't represent just one ward: He or she represents everyone in a city of more than 100,000. That's more constituents than a member of the Minnesota Senate has.
So the choice is clear — not easy, but clear: Throndson, Thompson or starting over from scratch.
Do your homework, voters.