by CHRIS ROGERS
The August 11 primary is less than a week away, and 10 candidates across three races are competing for Winonans’ votes. All of the city’s voters will have their pick of four mayoral hopefuls, and depending on what neighborhood they live in, Winonans will also face important choices on who should represent them at the Winona County Board table or in the City Council chambers. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the general election on November 3.
The four-way race for mayor
A City Council member since 2010, Michelle Alexander has focused on supporting development and stewarding the city’s finances in her campaign. “I think the thing that sets me apart primarily from my opponents is the experience,” she said in a July interview. “Ten years on council gives me a wide range of knowledge, not only of how cities function and run, but how to work well with other government bodies, from the county to the state, and even other countries.” Alexander said the city budget — which makes programs and projects possible and determines local taxes — was one of her top priorities. “It’s really a balancing act in understanding what the budget can and cannot handle, how our tax rate affects homeownership and businesses here, and how we can leverage some of our growth in tax base to help some of the projects happen,” she stated.
Former School Board member Ted Hazelton made citizen input — and the lack of input he sees in the current city government — the centerpiece of his campaign. “Because there’s been no public comment, decisions like the deer park and Broadway [road diet] get rammed through, and that isn’t right,” he said in an interview. Hazelton has also come out against the proposed Mankato Avenue roundabouts and in favor of an East End railroad overpass, as well as adding a public comment period to every council meeting. “I want to invest in Winona. I want to give back to our community. I want to invite people to the table … I feel many things need to be improved in Winona. I think our citizens need to feel, safe, valued, and respected,” he said at a July League of Women Voters (LVW) forum.
Downtown business owner Jovy Rockey put equity, downtown revitalization, and aid for people hurt by the pandemic at the center of her campaign. “I feel like now more than ever we need to be better listeners and need to be amplifying voices that aren’t always at the table,” she said in an interview. “As mayor I will strongly support ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown – particularly as we recover from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic – to make it a more vibrant area that supports public art, increased walkability and bike-ability, and is an economic driver for local business through public and private partnerships,” she said in a May statement. She’s suggested the idea of a commercial-rent-subsidy program to help downtown startups survive their first year, and — looking to the potential economic fallout of the pandemic — Rockey said making sure all Winonans have access to food and shelter is one of her top priorities.
Trinona Co-Executive Director Scott Sherman has focused on citizen input, pandemic recovery, and continuing investments in parks, arts, and downtown in his campaign. “My platform is healthy, safe, and economically sound,” Sherman said in an interview. “The very first thing that I’d like to address is public engagement. Alone, we cannot make informed decisions, we need the public’s input. We need people to come to the table,” he stated at the LVW forum. Pointing to the pandemic’s economic fallout in an interview, he added, “There are businesses hurting. There are nonprofits hurting. There are citizens hurting … We’ve got to find the best ways to mitigate the impact of what is currently happening in our society.” At the forum, Sherman stated, “I think it is crucial that we work together as a community — not only to reduce the pain we are currently experiencing, but to forge new beginnings, encourage inclusivity, and foster growth.”
Three vie for central Winona’s County Board seat
In his campaign for reelection, longtime Winona County Board member Greg Olson spoke about his work to streamline the county budget while preserving programs and his support for sustainable growth. Recalling his decision to run for office for the first time after helping organizing neighborhood cleanups with college students, landlords, and neighbors, Olson said in an interview, “I found I had a certain quality of being able to bring people together to form a common solution, and not only form a plan but work toward exercising that plan.” Olson has a record of supporting environmental regulations, such as the frac sand ban. He has also voted to preserve the county’s limit on feedlot size and highlighted the issue of nitrate contamination in his campaign. “One thing I will not compromise on is water,” he said at a July LVW forum.
Winona resident and Stockton native Jordan Potter has focused on seeking compromise at the County Board table and doubling down on the criminal justice programs that divert people from serving jail time. “Part of the reason why I’m running is I see a pretty big division on the board between the board members in the city and the board members in the rural area, and I’d like to try to bring some compromise and solutions to that aspect rather than having the board being constantly divided on everything,” he said in a May interview. “I spend a lot of time with farmers and people in the rural community, and I’d like to seek some common ground with the commissioners in all of our districts,” he said at the forum. “I’m a rationale thinker. I’m eager to support the citizens of our county, as well as the environment of our county,” Potter added.
Craig Zeches is a business leader and former Winona City Council member who has made economic development and expanding the area’s population central to his platform. “Whether it’s the church council, or the City Council, or the chamber, we all look for growth. If we don’t have growth, we’re going to be become stagnant,” he stated in an interview. “Winona’s been at 25,000 to 30,000 [in population] including Goodview since I was a kid,” he said. “We need to find ways to bring people to this county, and that’s going to help our tax base.” Asked about land use at the forum, he said, “I believe there are ways we can tastefully control land management but still allow the people who control that property use it to the fullest extent they have it for.” He’s also pointed to his financial experience running his own business and serving on boards.
Who will be First Ward’s City Council rep.?
In his campaign to represent far western Winona on the City Council, Chris Meier has highlighted his experience in government and sounded alarms about a financial bind Winona may face next year. “I understand the dynamics of city government and state government,” the former city inspector, who now works as a state construction code official, said. With Minnesota facing an over $2-billion deficit, lawmakers may cut funding that makes up nearly a quarter of the city’s budget, he stated. “How we’re going to address our budget in the future and keep a community that’s solvent?” Meier asked. Part of the answer: “Bring tourism to the community, create revenues for the city, and then we can keep our infrastructure in place and create a beautiful place,” he stated.
The entrepreneur-owner of Styx Construction, Ty Styx has focused on growth and empathy in his campaign. “I’m running because it’s important to me that the Winona City Council has a family man, someone to represents the families of Winona,” he stated. “Being the leader on sports teams, the leader on a construction crew, you’re meeting and talking with and managing all types of people all the time at different emotional levels,” he said. “I care how you feel, and you matter,” he added. Regarding the city’s future, Styx argued, “We have to make our city appealing from the river and we have to make our city appealing from the interstate. Until we do that, we’re going to float around 27,000 in population and Fastenal is going to employ the majority of people here.”
“Winona’s biggest export is our kids,” small business owner Steve Young said. “What would it take for a 20-something, 30-something-year-old young person to say, ‘I could live in Winona. I could work here. I could settle down here. I could start a family here. I could own a home here.’” he asked. Attracting young people and engaging people from all walks of life and backgrounds in civic life has been central to Young’s candidacy. “If I were to serve on the City Council, I would bring an ear for the needs of each community member, consensus-building leadership, and sound fiscal management,” he stated. “No matter your color, gender, or background you should have an opportunity to succeed in Winona,” Young added.
More information on how to vote, how to register, and what’s on your ballot is available at www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting.