It's morning again in Duluth
Believe it or not, some of us are genuinely disappointed to see winter fade gently away without putting up a fight. However, we acknowledge that the matter is firmly out of our control, so we choose (somewhat begrudgingly) to enjoy a spring that has arrived earlier than planned. There is still much to look forward to and be thankful for.
It seems to me that Mayor Don Ness' decision to bow out of the upcoming mayoral race raises similar feelings. At age 41 and an approval rating of 89 percent — the sort of figure fictitiously drummed up by communist dictators and virtually unheard of in the free world — virtually all of us are disappointed, though we understand (albeit begrudgingly) that a man with young kids must put his family first.
Being wholly out of our control, the appropriate response is to be thankful for his service and look forward to years of prosperity and growth ahead. A steady wind is at our backs, the sails are full and we will continue to move forward.
Donny has been a breath of fresh air in a city hall that many people had previously given up on. He is not responsible for all the good things happening in town and readily admits it. And yet, he did steer us through a serious financial crisis.
His finest quality is an ability to appreciate and elevate the gifts and assets of those around him. He is open to new ideas and recognizes a good thing when he sees it. He has been able to harness the talents embedded all over this community, which previously simmered beneath the surface just waiting to be unleashed.
Ness possesses a rare combination of managerial prowess, administrative acumen and a love for people. These have been the keys to his success. Somehow he has managed to put people above politics and partisanship, while still accomplishing goals. He realizes that the accomplishments come through the hard work of us all and not through a strict adherence to ideology. His pragmatism is a reminder that our best hopes in politics lie at the local level, at least for the foreseeable future.
Donny — I use the informal name intentionally because I consider him a friend, which is no big deal since it seems that he's everybody's friend — has been the most accessible mayor in recent memory. His down-to-earth brand of politics has won me over. Though he is affiliated with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, most of us think of him as the people's mayor rather than as a proponent of a political party.
Indeed, early on he was forced to make several decisions that should have been rather damaging to his base, such as various administrative moves that enabled significant cost reductions in health care coverage for retired city employees. While enormously controversial to elements of his constituency, these actions resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to Duluth's unfunded health care liability. This one action, painful as it was, will benefit our city for generations. Ness has governed with the common good in mind, even early on when he was considered an unproven "kid" and risked losing political capital.
His commitment to the city has converted me into a political moderate from Rush Limbaugh "dittohead" status. I offer this information as encouragement to a public weary of the same political games that have bedeviled our country for ages. It's time to focus on the issues rather than on a pure ideological agenda. Make compromises. Celebrate a few victories when they come. Stay faithful to the public good over the long haul. It's a pretty simple formula, actually. Mayor Ness has blazed a trail through the weeds that will hopefully prove to be influential for years to come.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. Connect with Eddy at www.eddygilmore.com.