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Erik Burgess, Published October 15 2013

Moorhead candidates grilled on questions ranging from F-M diversion to how to stimulate downtown development

MOORHEAD – With the election less than a month away, a crowd of nearly 100 people submitted dozens of questions to 15 candidates vying for a spot on the Moorhead City Council at a three-hour forum Tuesday night.

The range of topics included downtown development, how to keep college students engaged in the community, the proposed metro flood diversion and how to deal with troublesome train signals.

The event was at the Hjemkomst Center and moderated by Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The mayoral candidates were also asked what they thought of moving City Council elections to even-numbered years, another decision voters will make when they go to the polls Nov. 5.

If city elections are moved to even years, said voters will be “inundated with all the partisan rhetoric” of national and state elections and won’t be able to focus on local issues, said mayoral candidate Mark Hintermeyer.

Mike Hulett, another candidate for mayor, also said he doesn’t want to change the city election schedule.

“By the time people get through all of those federal, state offices, down to where we are, they might not really make as informed a decision on a city council or a mayor candidate,” Hulett said.

Mayoral candidate Del Rae Williams said she supports moving the city races to even years so Moorhead residents don’t have to go to the polls every year.

“I think we will always be very interested in city races,” she said. “Those are the races that affect us most directly.”

Fourth mayoral hopeful Kevin Shores was not present.

Future of toll bridge

Candidates from the 1st Ward and 2nd Ward, who took questions during the first hour, were asked what they think the city should do with the toll bridge at 15th Avenue North, which connects to Fargo’s 12th Avenue North.

The cities have been considering taking the toll bridge out of private hands and removing the toll.

Alex Huseby, running for 1st Ward, and Jim Haney, running for 2nd Ward, both said they don’t think the city should take private property away from its owner.

Incumbent Mark Altenburg, running for his second term in the 2nd Ward, said he believes north Moorhead would “blossom” with the bridge open to the public.

David Hallman and Mari Dailey, both running in the 1st Ward, agreed that the area would benefit with a public bridge but said the city has to make sure the road doesn’t become a major thoroughfare and disrupt those neighborhoods.

Downtown development

Candidates from the 3rd Ward and 4th Ward were asked how Moorhead can develop its downtown.

Julian Dahlquist, running in the 3rd Ward, said a “big crux” of the solution downtown lies in encouraging students to go and live downtown. He also said there needs to be a focus on arts downtown.

Cassandra Lougheed, 4th Ward candidate, said the city needs to be proactive and can’t wait for businesses to come to them.

Fourth Ward candidate Chris Floberg said the city should consider giving incentives to college graduates to help them become small-business owners downtown. He said the city needs to plan and “do it right the first time,” a phrase he repeated throughout the night.

Chuck Hendrickson, a 4th Ward candidate, said the city’s greatest asset is the college kids, who he says have been “ignored.” He suggested building housing on First Avenue aimed at students.

Brenda Elmer, 3rd Ward incumbent, agreed that more people need to be encouraged to live downtown. She noted that the council hired a business development and retention manager this year who has created “momentum” downtown.

Newzad Brifki, 4th Ward candidate, said the city needs to deal with its “serious, serious train problem” downtown in order to encourage growth, which could include pushing hard on underpass plans.

Ben Anderson, 4th Ward candidate, called downtown the “heart of the community” and said underpasses need to be a priority.

“We’re not going to develop anything in downtown if we have people that are just purposefully driving around it,” he said.

FM diversion

All candidates were asked their opinions of the proposed flood diversion, and the majority said they support the $1.8 billion project because it means protection for the greater metro area.

Council candidates who supported the diversion were Hallman, Huseby, Altenburg, Elmer, Anderson, Floberg, Hendrickson, and Brifki.

Dailey said she does not support the project because she’s “finding fewer and fewer people who actually support it” in the 1st Ward.

Lougheed said she was “on the fence” about the project and said there are things in the current plan that need to be changed.

Dahlquist said he doesn’t want to “pigeon hole” himself with a hard stance “because there’s so many question marks” with the project.

Haney said the project still faces many hurdles, including finding the federal dollars to fund it.

“It’s going to be very difficult, so we’ll see what happens,” Haney said.

Of the mayoral candidates, Hulett and Hintermeyer support the plan, while Williams said there are still issues with it.

Hulett said he supports a regional plan and pointed out that many people who live in Moorhead work in Fargo or West Fargo.

Hintermeyer said the city has to continue to “support the process,” but recognize that the Minnesota share of the project needs to come from the state, not Moorhead.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518