In Grand Forks mayor race, an uncommon moment: City employee runs against sitting mayor
Robin David to take leave upon officially filing for race.
To hear Robin David tell it, running for mayor against your boss’ boss isn’t so bad — and maybe even a chance for respectful camaraderie.
“Everything has gone very well,” said David, who, despite a campaign for the city’s top job, also helps support city workforce and immigration policy just two rungs below the mayor’s office. “People are (at City Hall because) they love this community, and they want this to be successful. I think that's clear to all of us, that that's what this is all about. I have a good deal of respect for Mayor (Mike) Brown and have expressed that to him."
David’s campaign also represents an uncommon moment in Grand Forks’ history that has no direct modern precedent: a city employee is running in an election against the incumbent mayor. And the relationship, which runs through the key city issues of local immigration and workforce development, offers a unique wrinkle in the fabric of the three-way race for the mayor’s office — which also includes former UND hockey player and developer Brandon Bochenski.
But Mayor Brown hasn’t let things ruffle him, either.
“I’m very pleased that people love this community and want to improve it. I admire that, and that’s why I ran,” Brown said of his own first bid for the mayor’s office in 2000. He added, too, that David is welcome to keep her position with the city if he wins the election.
“I think she’s doing a tremendous job,” Brown said.
City Clerk Sherie Lundmark said the nearest analogue in the past 25 years is when Pat Owens, who steered Grand Forks through the Flood of 1997, ran for mayor in 1996 after serving as an assistant in the mayor’s office. The significant difference, of course, is that Mayor Mike Polovitz wasn’t seeking re-election.
“I think Pat had the respect of many who worked for the city at that time,” Lundmark recalled. "She was here, she was knowledgeable, she was good to work with. I don't even remember now who she ran against that first time, when she ran."
Lundmark also pointed out that, just like Pat Owens, David will be required to step away from her role with the city either 60 days prior to the election or when she officially files for office. That makes it unlikely she’ll be in her current role as “welcoming community coordinator” any longer than April 6, Lundmark said. And if she wins the election, she won’t be able to stay employed by the city.
David currently serves as “welcoming community coordinator” for the city, a part-time job that pays about $37,600 annually and helps the city implement its “welcoming road map.” She reports to City Administrator Todd Feland.
“The road map has a three-year strategy, and so where we have it budgeted is in (the city’s) Jobs Development Authority,” Feland said. “Really, the welcoming coordinator position … is about workforce. And so a lot of her activities have been regarding workforce development activities. Those have been coordinating workforce development seminars. Panel discussions, doing outreach to area businesses.”
David found her way into the position after years of work in the community elsewhere; once an associate director of UND’s honors program, later as a founder and leader with the Global Friends Coalition, which helps settle refugees and new Americans in the Grand Forks area. She’s since become a Bush Foundation Fellow and began her role with the city in February 2019.
David said she’s worked ahead on her job with the city to minimize impact on city staff, who are expected to take on any necessary duties while she’s on leave. She also plans to discuss with Economic Development Corporation leadership whether she’ll continue attending EDC meetings, where she often visits as a guest. Additionally, she has suspended her role as a Bush Fellow while she runs for office, and may not resume the fellowship pending the outcome of the election.
“Really, long-term, my commitment for all these years here — it's the community and stepping up to serve the comm in whatever role that might be,” David said.