Mike Hanks Community Editor (Published Dec 6, 2021)
When the dust settled days after voting closed in Bloomington’s first City Council race using ranked-choice voting, the end result looked much like it did after the initial vote tally on Election Day.
Voters in Bloomington were able to rank the candidates on their ballots this year, and incumbents Nathan Coulter and Patrick Martin were both winners. With no incumbent in District 3, Lona Dallessandro won the seat.
Coulter, who holds one of two at-large seats on the council, came up about 4% short of the magic number needed to win reelection in the initial balloting. With the elimination of Ricardo Oliva prior to second-choice balloting, Coulter’s total eclipsed the 50% threshold in defeating Paul King, who trailed by approximately 2,500 votes on Election Day.
Coulter doesn’t point to any one reason for the outcome of any election, he said. He was challenged by two candidates who have been connected to the community, and he thinks that the City Council’s vision during his first term is one that residents respond to and care about. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” he said.
He knows not everyone agrees with every decisions the council has made during the past few years, but noted that some voters who didn’t support his candidacy appreciated how well the city is run, he explained.
Coulter said that while he supported the idea of offering ranked-choice voting as the method to determine the winner of City Council elections, he is a bit of a convert to the idea. Touted as a system that encourages proactive, positive campaigning, Coulter agrees that it does encourage candidates to appeal to residents who don’t support them. As proved to be the case in his race, “You may need some second-choice votes,” he said.
Ranked-choice voting makes a primary election unnecessary. With all candidates appearing on the November general election ballot, Coulter thinks that a wider field of candidates into the fall resulted in a greater level of engagement between candidates and voters. That may not be attributable solely to ranked-choice voting, but combined with a higher turnout this year, in comparison to his first campaign four years ago, “those are all positive things,” he said.
In District 3, four candidates from the city’s northwest precincts vied for votes, although the race came down largely to two candidates. Dallessandro defeated David Clark, with the two candidates garnering about 83% of the first-round votes
Dallessandro thinks her emphasis on issues such as the city’s natural spaces, its diverse economy and affordable living conditions for everyone resonated with voters. As the city’s population continues to expand, city leaders need to make it a viable place to live, as well as attract businesses that will continue to diversify the city’s economy, she explained.
Dallessandro outlined her areas of focus as a candidate, and learned about other issues important to residents. Traffic flow through was a regular topic of conversation, and speeding was a recurring concern, she said. A more comprehensive transit plan is needed in Bloomington, she concluded.
With a parks master plan on the horizon, and a continuing emphasis on connecting parks with sidewalks, bike lanes and trails, it will need to reflect the city’s traffic patterns in its design, she noted.
Several residents expressed concern about what they thought were inconsistencies in permit approvals and inspections, covering a range of issues, such as lawn maintenance and RV parking in driveways. That concern is not something Dallessandro has studied or discussed with city officials, but the concern piques her interest. “It’s worth investigating,” she said.
Dallessandro received endorsements from several partisan organizations in the nonpartisan election. She said she doesn’t think the partisan opinions defined the race. With ranked-choice voting, she found herself talking to voters who didn’t agree with her on all the issues, and appealing to those voters for consideration as a second or third choice, she explained.
Clark said he was at a disadvantage during the race. When Councilmember Jack Baloga announced he would not seek reelection, there was no formidable opponent to challenge Dallessandro, who had announced her candidacy months prior to the filing period. It was not his intention to mount a campaign in 2021, but he did so with no plan in place for a campaign, or experience in launching a campaign, he explained.
Beyond his late start, he said that his campaign had far less in campaign contributions to work with. His campaign raised approximately $2,750 while Dallessandro raised nearly $18,000, he noted. “I did my best with the few resources I had,” he said.
His campaign emphasized three points – improvements to public safety, fiscal responsibility and governing for all – saying that the council and city manager’s agenda is idealistic and focused on special interests. And for the many residents who have obligations away from city governance, they don’t have the time or energy to pay attention to local issues. But a growing number of people are taking notice of the city’s decisions, according to Clark.
He predicts change is coming to Bloomington. It may not have happened in this election, but he and other candidates will be better prepared two years from now, he said. Clark does not know if he’ll be a candidate again, but he expects some candidates from this year’s city and school district races will return in two years.
“I will be at core of whatever happens here,” he said. “The city is absolutely on the wrong track.”
There were four seats on the School Board ballot, and three incumbents seeking reelection. All three were successful.
Joining Beth Beebe, Tom Bennett and Dawn Steigauf on the board will be Matt Dymoke.
In his first foray into elected office, the lifelong Bloomington resident and Kennedy High School graduate said his connections to the community prior to his campaign helped build a base of supporters that shared his message door-to-door across the city.
“It’s a ground game, making sure you’re talking to as many voters as possible,” he said.
Beyond his outreach, he aligned with Bennett and Steigauf in a common campaign message that was to his benefit. His willingness to work toward common goals of the School Board helped him stand out, Dymoke noted.
The district’s ongoing pandemic response and its future under a new superintendent were common discussions between Dymoke and voters. He expected more questions about critical race theory, but it wasn’t an issue that many votes brought up during his campaign, perhaps because the district is not teaching it in its schools, he said.
Beebe, however, said it was the issue most often asked about in her door-to-door canvassing of the city, and that it garnered plenty of questions through phone calls and emails her campaign received.
Why the difference in doorstep discussions? Beebe thinks it was a result of how she phrased her questions of voters, giving them an opportunity to discuss the district’s business independent of her personal campaign. “That’s a different approach,” she said.
She would also hear individual family concerns involving a student within a household and their school. Although those weren’t campaign issues, Beebe attempted to serve as a conduit between families and the district to help resolve the concern, something she does routinely as a board member that she thinks sets her apart. “They expect us to work for them,” she noted.
Natalie Marose was one of seven challengers joining the incumbents on the ballot. She knew it was an uphill battle to defeat the incumbents, and thinks labor union support helped carry the quartet to victory.
Without campaign experience, political connections and financial backing, she said it was a challenge to break through the field, but that she is at peace with her campaign. At 5,700 votes, she finished about 1,000 votes out of fourth place.
During her voter outreach, Marose confirmed that most residents aren’t tuned into the district’s business unless it is impacting them directly. She was certain voters had an opinion of her, one way or the other, after speaking with her. One resident disagreed with most of what she supported, according to Marose. But he said he would vote for her, as he knew he could trust her to speak her mind. That trust wasn’t enough to carry the day. “That’s not how politics works,” she said.
Jeff Salovich earned votes from 10% of residents who went to the polls. In a two-candidate race, that spells a landslide loss. In a field of 10 candidates seeking four seats, he was part of a trio that had a strong showing in the middle of the pack.
Salovich was a latecomer to the campaign, and doesn’t use Facebook or other social media channels, so he was at a disadvantage. As a pipefitter at Minneapolis City Hall and the father of a Navy mechanic, he is a proponent of improving educational opportunities in construction trades. Although he won’t be able to advocate for trades education as a board member, he expects to move forward with his ideas to connect employers and educators in the trades industry with high school students, he explained.
And he plans to mount another campaign for School Board, taking what he learned from this year’s campaign and launching his future campaign earlier, he noted.
Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.