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At least five candidates look to fill mayor seat

Primary election to be held on April 13

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/20/21

ELY – Let the campaigning begin. At least four current city council members and a former mayor are looking to lead the city of Ely as its next mayor.Heidi Omerza, Paul Kess, Angela Campbell and …

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At least five candidates look to fill mayor seat

Primary election to be held on April 13


ELY – Let the campaigning begin. At least four current city council members and a former mayor are looking to lead the city of Ely as its next mayor.
Heidi Omerza, Paul Kess, Angela Campbell and Jerome Debeltz filed candidacy papers for the position on Tuesday, the first day of the filing period. Former Ely mayor Roger Skraba is looking to return to the position he once held and threw his hat in the ring on Tuesday.
Interim Mayor Chuck Novak, who lost his re-election bid last November, said this week that he had “no answer” when asked by the Timberjay if he will run for election again. “It is too early to tell,” he said. “However, I have put a lot of thought into it.”
Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, to file for the election with the City Clerk’s office.
As more than two candidates are seeking the job, a primary election will be held on Tuesday, April 13. A general election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 10.
The Ely city government was under the leadership of Novak last summer when resident Erik Urbas decided to run for elected office for the first time in his life. In August, Urbas withdrew from the race because of an ongoing health issue, but it was too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Urbas won, 925 to 800, over Novak, but turned down the job, setting in motion the steps to hold another election.
At the beginning of the year, the mayor’s seat vacancy was declared and Novak was named interim mayor by a majority vote of the council. Novak will continue to lead the city until at least April or maybe August.
Beginning her 14th year on the Ely City Council, Omerza said in a press release that as mayor she would continue her advocacy as a tested and transparent leader for the Ely community.
“I first decided to run for council for my children’s future in Ely,” Omerza said. “That is more important today than it has ever been, keeping Ely viable and vibrant, beyond all our tomorrows, but keeping today in mind.”
She said she hopes to bring “her knowledge, expertise and passion” gained over the last 14 years to the mayor’s seat, “especially her parenting skills, teaching experiences, and common sense to solve problems.”
Omerza has served as president of the Coalition of Greater MN Cities (CGMC) board and is currently still on the CGMC board as the LGA Tax Co-Chair, president of the League of MN Cities, and is currently the president of the Greater MN Partnership.
“This is a feat that no other Ely mayor or council member has accomplished,” she said.
Kess welcomed the growing field of candidates.
“I’m a fan of democracy and giving the voters a choice is a good thing,” he said.
He was first elected to the city council in the mid-1990s after serving on the Charter Commission and being appointed to a vacant council seat.
“I was elected and that led to a run of about ten years on the council,” he said. “I was off the council for some time and got the bug again and continue to serve.” He ran for mayor four years ago and lost to Novak by six votes.
Kess has been active in the community in a number of capacities, as a member of the Development Council and the local sled dog race committee.
“As mayor, the short-term is important right now. We need to make sure Ely citizens and businesses get all the available help they can to get through the COVID (crisis),” he said. “The city tries to make sure programs are available for businesses, and we need to continue that. We need to define policies to help our city’s businesses.”
He also called for the city to be vigilant to continue to help the hospitality industry here. “There are some businesses that are making it through, but many are struggling. We need to make sure that those businesses and our citizens are getting the resources they need.”
Kess asserted that he remains an advocate for lower taxes. He is currently a member of the council’s budget committee. “We need to keep the budget under control,” he said. “As the state budget struggles, I assume that pain will roll downhill and we will be expected to share in that. I think I have the experience and depth of knowledge to help guide the discussion on how we respond. “
Campbell serves on the city council and previously ran for mayor. In a statement to the Timberjay, she said. “I’m running for mayor of Ely because the simple truth is this, I can make a difference. I can make an impact. I want to move Ely forward with experience, integrity, trust and commitment.”
Debeltz is a native of Ely and graduated from Ely High School in 1970. He has served on the city council for 28 years. He said he ran for mayor “quite a few years ago” and lost, and wants to continue his service to the community.
“I hope we can keep our streets in good shape and our workforce going,” he said. “Ely is a great place to live and visit and I hope we can make Ely a better place.”
He said he is focused on the need for good-paying jobs and the continuation and improvement of health care, especially for veterans.
Skraba held three terms as mayor following several years on the council in the late 1990s. He was first elected mayor in 2004, lost a re-election bid to Novak in 2006, beat Novak in 2008, and was re-elected to hold the seat in 2010. He then lost to Ross Petersen in 2012.
“I ran for the state House of Representatives three times, as a Democrat, Independent and Republican,” he said. “I want to get back involved with everything that’s going on in the world. It is so polarized right now.”
Skraba is doing carpentry work this winter and is a longtime fishing guide in the area.
“I’m very comfortable in the mayor’s seat because I represent all people, and I make no bones about it. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are not what you want, then it goes where it goes and that’s what I respect. The majority votes for what they want. I can offer my influence and my knowledge for people to make a decision that’s good for the community. The politics is the part that sucks the most.”
As a member of the Minnesota Mayors Association when he was in office, Skraba said he talked with his peers about solving the same issues. “I brought those ideas back to this community to help everyone,” he said.
“The transition from being on the city council to being mayor was mind-boggling,” he added. “During those days we were always searching for a clerk-treasurer or a city administrator, and I did a lot of that work on a de facto basis.”

Timeline for 2021 Ely Mayoral Special Election
-Feb. 2 – Candidate filing period closes
-Feb. 4 – Close of withdrawal period (two days after close of filing period)
-Feb. 26 – Open absentee voting period begins
-April 13 – Special Primary Election (if necessary) or Special General Election
-June 25 – Open absentee voting period begins
-Aug. 10 – Special General Election (if necessary)
-Aug. 12 – Canvass election results at special council meeting


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