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Published June 06 2012

Walaker throws weight behind challenger Sobolik

FARGO – Mayor Dennis Walaker is urging voters to elect a new, female representative to serve on the Fargo City Commission.

In an unprecedented move, Walaker formally endorsed challenger Melissa Sobolik for the contest that city voters will decide next week.

Anthony Gehrig and incumbents Mike Williams and Dave Piepkorn are also running for the two open seats on the five-member commission, of which the mayor is a voting member.

Walaker said Sobolik has shown a commitment and dedication to learning about Fargo’s city government, especially since her first bid for the commission two years ago.

“We want somebody I feel we can work with. … She has done an exemplary job of doing her research,” Walaker said, adding: “Having a female brings a new perspective to the commission process.”

Since he was elected mayor in 2006, Walaker has routinely endorsed legislative, statewide and congressional candidates, but before Wednesday, he had not publicly backed any candidates for the city commission.

Sobolik, 32, is the director of member and client services at the Great Plains Food Bank, and she’s running on a pledge to represent Fargo’s younger demographic.

The median age of a Fargo resident is 30 years old, according to the 2010 Census. Current commission members range in age from 43 to 71 years old.

Sobolik said she was “blown away” by Walaker’s formal support.

“It means a lot to me personally, the fact he was willing to make me his first citywide endorsement,” Sobolik said. “A lot of people like Denny and respect his position on the issues.”

Walaker said he won’t be endorsing anyone else in the commission race, and he also won’t say which incumbent – Williams or Piepkorn – he’d like to see Sobolik replace.

However, Walaker and Piepkorn have particularly butted heads on multiple issues, most recently on the debate over extending Fargo’s half-cent sales tax, which is also on Tuesday’s ballot.

Walaker has pushed for the tax extension, while Piepkorn vehemently opposes the measure.

Williams also opposed the sales tax measure, but only on the grounds that the city should have waited to ask voters to approve the extension.

Neither Williams nor Piepkorn returned messages from The Forum seeking comment Wednesday.

Fargo commissioners serve four-year terms and receive an annual salary of $21,938.

Piepkorn was first elected in 2008, while Williams has served since 2004.

Outside public office, Piepkorn owns and manages Fargo’s franchise location for TruGreen lawn care service and Williams is a risk manager for Family Mutual Insurance.

Gehrig, a political novice, works as an intelligence analyst for the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541