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Art Bakken seeks to take Grand Forks out of 'bedroom community' status

Write-in mayoral candidate considers himself a realist.

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Art Bakken, owner of Pro Transport, has been donating to the Santa Claus Girls for the past 30 to 40 years. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Art Bakken’s write-in campaign to be Grand Forks’ mayor has been a challenge.

The former Grand Forks City Council member has spent $8,000 from his own pocket on billboards and other advertising, and he’s spoken to area media, including the Herald, here and again. But the in-person work that marks most campaigns has been nearly impossible, and the “write-in” part of any campaign is tricky.

“People are more used to just going down and checking a box than they are having to stop and write in somebody’s name. It’s inconvenient,” Bakken said with a chuckle.

And most city-level political concerns have taken a back seat to broader worries caused by the outbreak of coronavirus, Bakken said. The virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has prompted governments across the United States to clamp down on large segments of public life, and that’s meant millions of lost jobs and a steep economic downtown.

“Everybody’s worried about surviving,” Bakken told the Herald on Tuesday. “Anything that was an issue in the city before the pandemic is not going to get fixed after the pandemic.”

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Bakken paints himself as a realist and a city-first public servant who would take Grand Forks in a different direction – away from being what he calls a “bedroom community” for Fargo and other large North Dakota cities.

Bakken is up against three candidates, including Brandon Bochenski, Mike Brown and Robin David. Brown is the incumbent. Ballots in the all-mail election are due back to the auditor’s office postmarked no later than June 8; there also is a drop box that will be available for voters who wish to submit their ballot by hand. The drop box will be located behind the county office building, in the parking ramp.

In Bakken’s estimation, the pandemic is bigger than any government, let alone a city one, and whoever ends up in the mayor’s chair won’t be able to carry out many plans because the city government – and state, and feds – will be strapped for cash.

“If you can get the basics running,” he said. “You’ll probably be doing well.”

But Bakken’s campaign is also a write-in for a reason. He flirted with a mayoral candidacy for weeks earlier this year, and only conceded he was a candidate when pressed by the Herald in mid-March after saying he intended to fill out the necessary paperwork to be placed on ballots this June. Bakken didn’t collect enough signatures to get his name on those ballots – a threshold the North Dakota Secretary of State kept in place during the pandemic that hindered other local-level candidates but none of his competitors for the mayor’s chair.

And, in earlier interviews with the Herald, Bakken has put forth questionable policy proposals. To make Grand Forks housing more affordable, for instance, he’s proposed a volunteer group of builders to remodel downtown-area homes. But that plan would presumably drive up – not down – the purchase price of those houses.

Bakken said on Tuesday that his plan would make those homes more expensive, yes, but many, he claimed, have not garnered much interest from homebuyers in the first place. And in his estimation, a fixed-up home would still be cheaper than a new one.

Assuming he’s elected and also assuming the pandemic is under control, Bakken said he hopes the public would judge his turn in the mayor’s seat by the number of businesses – small ones, retail ones, and service-industry ones – that survive and start up in Grand Forks, along with how well employment figures weather the epidemiological storm.

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“I’m not a politician,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t need to be mayor for me. I need to be mayor as a public service. I’m just trying to give back to the community that’s been good to me. That’s all.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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