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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 03 2010

Fewer competitors for Walaker this time

On paper, the Fargo mayor’s race is a four-man heat.

But nearing the end of Dennis Walaker’s first term as mayor, the incumbent is riding a wave of popularity after leading the city through two consecutive successful flood fights. In addition, he’s leading a high-profile effort to get federal funding for a Red River diversion channel to provide permanent flood protection for the metro area.

As Walaker runs a campaign that emphasizes experience and leadership, his three opponents have been mostly quiet.

“Nothing like it was four years ago,” Walaker said, recalling a race that started with seven candidates slugging it out.

The most visible campaign among Walaker’s challengers is arguably from Lenny Tweeden.

Tweeden, who works in retail sales, would push for Fargo to adopt a domestic partner registry law, make it easier for unmarried or same-sex couples to obtain insurance and other benefits from firms that offer them.

Tweeden also wants to switch city government from the current commission style now used, with commissioners elected at-large, to a council system, with representatives elected from wards around the city. He, too, recognizes the importance of obtaining federal funding for a diversion channel to protect Fargo-Moorhead.

But his campaign has not been as aggressive, running mostly on word-of-mouth and the social networking site Facebook.

Ahmed Haji, director of Somali Community Development of North Dakota, is also running a low-key campaign.

Haji said he wants to bring a change to local government and create jobs for youth, though he hasn’t presented any specific proposals. He said he wants to give a voice to the city’s immigrant communities, but promises to work for Fargoans of all backgrounds.

Haji said in a recent telephone interview that he’s campaigning door to door and visiting businesses to drum up support.

A fourth candidate, Robert Gates, no longer lives in Fargo, and city officials have so far been unable to determine if he intends to move back to town from the mobile home community in Mesa, Ariz., where he moved earlier this year.

Gates left a voice mail at The Forum after a story on attempts to trace his whereabouts appeared in the newspaper. He said he was going to sell his mobile home in Mesa and move to the New York area.

He has not stated any positions or taken part in candidates’ forums or The Forum’s Voters Guide.

Walaker, a retiree, has about 50 yard signs placed, and plans to run radio and print ads, he said.

Beyond flood protection, Walaker said keeping a lid on property taxes is important, even though there are many pressures on the budget to add services or staff. He also wants to eventually direct 1 mill of Fargo’s property tax revenue to economic development.

“I feel it’s so important to provide jobs.” he said.

The office of mayor has a four-year term. The mayor sits as part of the five-member City Commission. The part-time position pays $28,017 per year.



Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583