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Erik Burgess, Published March 19 2014

Fargo mayor's race heats up: After vowing to stay away, Wimmer to challenge Walaker

FARGO – Longtime city commissioner and jewelry store owner Brad Wimmer said in December he would not seek the office of mayor in this year’s city election.

Two-term incumbent Dennis Walaker had just announced his plans to run again, and Wimmer said he would not run against his friend, saying having Walaker as mayor was “good for all of us.”

Just three months later, Wimmer has changed his mind. He filed Wednesday to run for mayor in the June 10 election.

“The public kind of drove me to run,” Wimmer said Wednesday. “I’ve had many, many approach and ask if I’d reconsider.”

He will officially announce his candidacy at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Fargo Theatre.

Walaker was planning to basically run on name recognition alone, saying when he announced re-election plans that he wasn’t going to buy ads, billboard space or print out campaign brochures.

“I hadn’t planned on doing effective campaigning, but I guess now I have to,” Walaker said Wednesday.

Walaker became somewhat of a local folk hero as the public works director who helped beat back the historic flood of 1997. He was elected mayor in 2006 and overwhelmingly re-elected in 2010.

He said Wimmer broke the news to him on Tuesday in a private meeting.

“I, of course, tried to convince him not to, but he’s hell-bent on being mayor this time or he’s done,” Walaker said.

Since December, Wimmer said he’s had time to talk over the idea with his family and colleagues.

“I think the timing is right,” Wimmer said. “I’ve done 16 years of public service with the Park Board and the City Commission, and I think there’s a need there. I think we need some new people to get on the commission, so whether that’s my spot or Dennis’s spot.”

Wimmer has served for eight years as city commissioner, and for eight years was a Fargo Park Board commissioner.

Walaker said he’d rather have Wimmer as a commissioner than see him lose his seat as commissioner if he loses the mayor’s race.

“I think Brad makes a good commissioner,” Walaker said. “I don’t know if he has the time with his business to be a good mayor. So that’s up to him.”

Walaker said this doesn’t change his decision to run for mayor. Wimmer assured it would be a “friendly campaign.”

“Dennis and I have been good friends for as long as I can remember,” Wimmer said. “So, no, I’m not pointing the finger at anything he’s done or hasn’t done.”

Walaker said there are still some major issues in Fargo that he wants to help shepherd for another four years. At the top of his list is getting federal approval and funding for the proposed $1.8 billion Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

“I don’t think he fully understands the time that it takes to be a mayor,” Walaker said. “It looks glamorous and exciting and all the rest of those attributes, but it’s got some tough decisions.”

City Commissioner Tim Mahoney, who also told The Forum in December that he wouldn’t seek the mayor’s chair with Walaker running, filed for re-election as city commissioner on Wednesday.

Former failed City Commission candidate Anthony Gehrig has also filed for the city commissioner race this year.

The term limit for city commissioner and mayor is three successive terms, unless they have served in both capacities. Then they can serve a total of four successive terms between the two roles.

The filing deadline for this year’s city election is 4 p.m. April 7. There are three spots open – two commission seats and the mayor’s. Commissioners and the mayor are elected at-large.

Three park commissioner spots are also open.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518