Eyes on a City Council Race in the Zenith City

While national and state politicians are wound up over healthcare and gun laws, there’s a small, yet significant election getting the attention of social media patrons in Duluth.

Ryan Sistad, a 23-year-old project manager for a local union contractor, is running against current Duluth City Council President Joel Sipress, a six-year incumbent, for the 2nd District seat on the Duluth City Council. This is the first election where Sipress has had a challenger – he first selected by the City Council through a Ranked Choice method. This now seems odd, remember Duluth voters rejected Rank Choice Voting in 2015 by 75%.

Sistad entered the race late – filing within the last minutes of the final day – and without fanfare according to the Duluth News Tribune. Within a few weeks, he had put together a Facebook page and began drawing in an audience. In three short months, he has amassed more followers on his Facebook page than his opponent. And, according to a recently-released campaign finance report, his campaign outraised the incumbent in less than 3 months.

Sistad’s first Facebook post in early September states his intention of running a respectful campaign, focused on local issues. A quick peruse of his candidate page validates he has largely held-up his end of the bargain. While there are several questions raising issues related to his supporters or position, Sistad has repeatedly defended against disrespectful allegations and various inquiries relating to state and national issues.

This past weekend, Claire Kirch wife of Sipress, launched vicious remarks through social media regarding Sistad’s donors and the presumed intentions of his campaign, alleging he had been “bought by” his campaign donors. Over the course of the next several days, verbal attacks were shot across both bows, with rare, if any, interaction from the candidates themselves. A quick review of social media would demonstrate the Sipress campaign, or rather Sipress’ wife, had launched the majority of the social media attacks.

At the heart of the attack was a Sistad donor – successful local businessman, Brian Maki, of Lakehead Constructors. Lakehead Constructors, a regional union contractor, has a long legacy of working on the Iron Range and in Duluth. Ironically, Sipress’ campaign materials, he holds the DFL endorsement for the election, in spite of the fact he was a Green Party person in the past. While Sipress have the endorsement, there are few social posts connecting his campaign with the other local DFL endorsed candidates.

It’s impossible not to draw a connection to an event which unfolded in August. Sipress engaged in a heated private message conversation that went public. Sipress had choice words (F-Bomb) with a local elected official, Justin Perpich, relating to a local special interest group, Duluth for Clean Water, and the lack of required campaign finance disclosure. Sipress is a champion of the group and is one of the endorsed candidates. While subsequent online petition gathered more than 400 supporters calling for the resignation of Sipress as the City Council President ensued, the dust settled and life moved on in Duluth.

Duluth voters in the 2nd District – a large, diverse district – face a choice tomorrow. Vote for the incumbent – who’s views may either be his own self-proclaimed socialist views, his wife’s or those of the special interest group that endorses him. Or Sistad – the youthful, inexperienced candidate backed by the business community.

Soon the voters will decide who becomes the voice at the table for the small, seemingly insignificant District race in Duluth.

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