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MATTERS AT HAND: Grand Forks faces an unpredictable election

Probably the only predictable outcome of the June 10 election is that the county home rule charter will be defeated. Oh! And the unopposed candidates will win. But that's about as far as it goes. There's actually a surplus of candidates in some r...

Probably the only predictable outcome of the June 10 election is that the county home rule charter will be defeated.

Oh! And the unopposed candidates will win.

But that's about as far as it goes.

There's actually a surplus of candidates in some races. The field of eight for county commission will be cut to four. These will advance to the fall general election, when two seats will be filled. I might be safe to predict that incumbent Arvin Kvasager will be one of the four advanced.

Three candidates are running for mayor of Grand Forks. The decision June 10 will be final, and one of them will be mayor.

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This race has generated great interest -- and great uncertainty. It's just hard to gauge what voters are thinking and how many of them will turn out.

A big turnout may mean a new mayor because unhappy citizens are more likely to vote.

Mayor Mike Brown is clearly taking the election seriously. He's launched a spirited campaign stressing his record -- by any measure, an impressive one.

The biggest threat comes from Mike McNamara, a radio talk show host, a member of the City Council and a frequent critic of the mayor. McNamara is smart, articulate and well-known.

Larry Humble is also a candidate. Just about everyone knows Humble, and I don't know anybody who doesn't like him. He chose the wrong year to run for mayor, however, but his name on the ballot could be a factor in the outcome.

It's likely that Brown supporters will vote for Brown, but it's uncertain whom his opponents will favor. Humble's presence in the race therefore could dampen McNamara's chances.

This may be especially true because Humble is "old-time Grand Forks." He's the only candidate of the three who grew up here. He's likely to appeal to older voters and perhaps to lower-income voters. He's pitched his appeal their way by criticizing city tax rates.

As it happens, this is the constituency that McNamara seeks. He presents himself as the candidate of the working class, and he points out that working-class voters are a majority of the city's electorate.

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But Brown has entrenched support, as well. He's delivered a lot of babies. He's popular in the business community and probably will carry south-end precincts.

He also has support in McNamara's natural constituency. He's active in St. Mike's Church, a north-side institution. That's also McNamara's church.

North-side Catholics can be a formidable voting bloc in Grand Forks elections, but this time, their loyalties are likely to be divided, and that could be decisive.

These factors suggest that Brown should win.

But there are imponderables.

First is the appetite for change. This has been apparent in the presidential campaign, and it could have a local impact.

Brown has been in office for eight years. Though he's been an architect of change, he can't very well seek re-election as the candidate for change.

Then, there's the local attitude toward taxes. Much has been said about property tax rates in Grand Forks. The city isn't the only entity that survives on property taxes, but it is the most visible, so city officials are blamed.

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Will anti-tax sentiment and an appetite for change result in a new mayor?

I'd bet against it -- but remember this.

Brown seemed the longest of long shots when he was elected eight years ago. His opponents were the incumbent mayor and a prominent member of the City Council.

Related Topics: MIKE JACOBS
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