Brandon Bochenski’s phone has been buzzing relentlessly since he won Grand Forks City Hall’s top job.
The city’s mayor-elect on Wednesday said he’s heard from Gov. Doug Burgum, newly minted UND President Andrew Armacost and U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., since his victory on Tuesday, as well as a plethora of other friends and well-wishers.
Bochenski won a citywide vote on Tuesday evening, and said on Wednesday afternoon that he spent the day sifting through and returning messages and phone calls.
“I’ve still been kind of going through that list and try not to leave anybody out,” he told the Herald. “Like 1,000 people from around town.”
Bochenski’s victory party Tuesday evening went from a well-appointed Near North wedding venue, where he thanked a litany of campaign workers and other political allies, to downtown establishment Joe Black’s.
“It feels great,” Bochenski said of the win. “We set out a goal and we accomplished it. Any time you can do that, it’s amazing.”
Grand Forks voters put the real estate developer and political newcomer into the mayor’s office on Tuesday, ousting incumbent Mike Brown after a historic two-decade tenure.
Bochenski — a businessman and former hockey star who played at UND before launching a professional career — defeated not only Brown, but also city workforce and immigration staffer Robin David. Art Bakken, a former City Council candidate, had waged a write-in campaign.
“When you put five months of work in, you’ve got to be excited about this result,” Bochenski told Grand Forks media about an hour after the votes were tallied. “I just think the town was ready for a change, and that’s the biggest attribute that we brought to it, was the change and the change for the better.”
The soon-to-be-mayor said he won because he ran a “professional and precise” campaign that focused on what he wanted to do while in office.
“The way campaigns should be run,” he said.
Bochenski received 5,663 votes, or 49.62% of the total vote. Brown had 3,360 votes, or 31.81%, and David had 1,989, or 17.43%. Write-in candidates totaled 131 votes.
Although most elections in Grand Forks County were uncontested, there was a School Board election, too. Christopher Douthit was elected to serve an unexpired, two-year term on the board, getting 4,780 votes to beat Brad Raymond (2,043 votes) . And in the race for four 4-year terms, Amber Flynn, Eric Lunn, Jeff Manley and Cynthia Shabb received the highest vote totals: Flynn, 6,938, or 21.06%; Lunn, 7,850, or 23.82%; Manley, 6,446, or 19.56%; and Shabb, 6,498, or 19.72%. Lee Hensrud finished fifth, with 5,066 votes.
But the mayor’s race grabbed most of the city’s attention.
“We’re going to get this city going again,” Bochenski said. “We’re going to get business going again, get the economy going again. And we’ll build that tax roll through that so the burden’s shared by everybody.”
He said on Wednesday that he plans to meet with Todd Feland, the city’s administrator, on Friday.
The new mayor’s first challenge at City Hall likely will be the coronavirus pandemic and its economic effects — a task that threatens to overshadow the rest of his agenda, even if he musters enough City Council support to enact it. Retail and restaurant sectors have faced a massive slowdown in revenue as city leaders forecast shortfalls in tax income.
“I think we’re going to do better on sales tax than what’s predicted,” Bochenski said shortly after the votes were totaled, expressing optimism in online sales tax numbers. “Those numbers have already started to come in better than I thought.”
The pandemic meant a campaign without glad-handing and door-knocking — a marked departure from the norm in Grand Forks. But candidates found voters nonetheless, stumping via social media and teleconferenced debate. Votes were rolling in across the month of May, with many counted as early as Wednesday of last week, well in advance of the earliest results becoming public at the Alerus Center on Tuesday evening.
Brown told the Herald it was “an honor and a privilege to serve this community for 20 years.”
“I think I'm going out on top — with a billion-dollar boom I think it shows (that) people have faith in this community. I think it's a tribute to myself and my team, what we've accomplished,” he said. “Now it's time for the next chapter in my life. It entails travel, and gardening and the yard, and all those other things. (My) grandbaby. He's six months old. It just opens up another chapter. I think that's all right."
David wished Bochenski well, and said she’s looking forward to being helpful however she can within the community.
"Really, I'm so proud of the race that we ran,” she said. “I think it absolutely represented so much about what I've seen are the needs in the community and who I am. I really think it was so tremendously inclusive and I'm just so grateful to see how well people were able to be mobilized and energized.”
David added she’s unclear on the future of her position at City Hall, though she said she would return to work on Wednesday. And that sudden sense that the future will be different — perhaps dramatically so — is almost certainly shared by other city staff. During the campaign, Bochenski had railed against top city leadership, promising to stop the “lion’s share” of compensation boosts from going to city brass and accusing Mayor Brown of allowing top administrators to run the city.
In a Tuesday night interview, Feland said that staff are prepared to take elected leaders’ cues on the future of the city starting on June 23, when Bochenski and elected and re-elected City Council leaders will be sworn in. Those four new council leaders are Danny Weigel, Ward 1; Bret Weber, Ward 3; Kyle Kvamme, Ward 5; and Ken Vein, Ward 7. All were prior members of the City Council, save for Kvamme, and all ran unopposed.
"It's been a terrific 20 years,” Feland said. “And with the staff — we are about continuity of government, and serving Mayor Bochenski and the new City Council, and continuing what we feel is a really great and grand city of Grand Forks."