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Three candidates vie for Ely mayor seat

Aug. 9 primary will narrow the field for Nov. general election

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/3/22

ELY – Three candidates are participating in the Aug. 9 primary for Ely mayor. The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.Two incumbent Ely city council members, Paul …

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Three candidates vie for Ely mayor seat

Aug. 9 primary will narrow the field for Nov. general election


ELY – Three candidates are participating in the Aug. 9 primary for Ely mayor. The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
Two incumbent Ely city council members, Paul Kess and Heidi Omerza, along with newcomer Mark Haarman, are running. The current mayor, Roger Skraba, is running for a state legislative seat and is not on the ballot.
The candidates were each asked three questions by The Timberjay. Their answers appear below.
1. What is your background and how does that qualify you to be mayor for the city of Ely?
Haarman: Being an alumnus and awarded best in the candidate course of Wellstone Action (Camp Wellstone) aka Paul Wellstone, community public service rates higher than personal interests, as in service before self. Fund development study at St. Thomas Business School, personal friendships with educational, political and business leaders benefits a mayor in great ways. Listening skills are so very important, and making time to do that is vital. 
Kess: I am a lifelong resident of Ely with deep roots in our community. Over the years, I’ve served on many boards and committees and have always strived to make Ely a better place. As a City Councilor for more than 20 years, I have served on the Budget, Airport, and Sanitation committees, as the City rep on the Lodging Tax Board, and as President of RAMS I have been a voice for the Range at the Legislature. I have built a reputation for integrity in public service. 
Omerza: Serving her 16th year on the Council, Heidi graduated from Hamline University and is a fifth grade teacher at Ely Public Schools. Heidi Omerza is married to Tom Omerza, president of Frandsen Bank, school board member and assistant girls basketball coach. They have four children, Elliot, Evan, Eric and Elizabeth. The boys all graduated from Ely High School, Elizabeth will be a senior this year. Locally, she serves on the following boards: Ely Economic Development Authority as President, Park and Recreation, Library, Employee Relations, Insurance, and Negotiations. Statewide she serves on: Coalition of Greater MN Cities Board and Greater MN Partnership, and past president of the League of MN Cities. I am passionate about our community and have a proven track record of achieving positive results. I strive to listen to concerns, in order to find common ground and the best path forward on issues.
2. What are the key issues and challenges facing Ely today, and how will you address them?
Haarman: Challenges and issues facing Ely are determined by the citizens, and the mayor and council sorts, categorizes and focuses leaders to action and resolutions. Do residents wish for a friendlier and more respectful police department? Will face-to -face meetings with the mayor be important and welcomed? Is far less ice on city sidewalks the entire winter and spring a value to community, and a good representation of pride in our city? Will our “community” radio station WELY with new ownership have a large volunteer base, offering live on-air personalities while entertaining, educating and enlightening listeners locally and throughout the world to the gifts and products the area offers? And town-hall-style meetings, will voters be in favor? A qualified mayor will choose to make this happen. 
Kess: First, we must ensure that our budget stays affordable to the people and businesses of Ely. I’ve always been a budget hawk, advocating for low taxes. In a time of inflation and increasing costs we need to focus on maintaining our core services. Second, we need to work at creating more housing. This is a tough nut to crack and we should learn all we can from places like Ottertail County and Roseau who have done some creative things. Our Housing and Rehabilitation Authority (HRA) is one way and the proposed West End housing project deserves our support. Of course, there are other issues that need our attention (streets, parks, trails, airport, etc.) but overall the City is well managed. 
Omerza: The lack of housing, lack of workers, and childcare shortages have high priority. The Ely HRA is in the process of developing a new housing project in the west end and the City is extending utilities to new lots available for purchase in the Spaulding area. I will continue to support housing development efforts. There is an active childcare working group in Ely which many community members have become engaged in. I have appealed to legislators that it is important to keep our children safe, but many state statutes regarding licensing are “one size fits all”, which have an unnecessary burden to any at home or licensed childcare facility. As a teacher, I am passionate about finding a solution. To increase our workforce, we need to increase our reliable internet capability and hold our local provider accountable. I will continue to protect the jobs that we currently have and ensure the City is fiscally responsible.
3. What do you want the city of Ely to be in the next decade, and what steps need to be taken to accomplish your vision?
Haarman: Ely’s future, restored to ‘The Canoe Capital of the World’ it once was, coupled with more multiple use of our Boundary Waters and a restoration forestry initiative the late Jack Rajala (Mr. White Pine) and Jack Pine Bob Cary agreed with, within our Wilderness is doable. The Ely-Winton History Center deserves a main street entry, and fund development for its new location should commence. A performing arts curriculum at our college and high school will increase the population and highlight the extraordinary base of artists living here and nearby. A win-win for all, well within five to ten years. The mayor’s role helps bring this to fruition, and all of this is why I am running for mayor of what will always remain the “coolest small town in America.” 
Kess:  I’ll work to ensure that Ely continues to be an attractive place to live and work. We have a high quality of life and a spirit of community that makes Ely a unique place. We need a dynamic mayor with experience, knowledge, and commitment. I intend to be that person. 
Omerza: As Mayor I will provide steady and sound leadership that makes sense to all of Ely. I will continue to promote the use of technology and infrastructure to better our community. Our current high-speed fiber downtown internet project can and should be expanded to help service individual homes within the community. The ability to work from home is a key to the new economy and Ely’s future. Additionally, the proposed west end housing development project along with the new Trailhead building will be a great place year-round for residents and tourist alike. I am committed to moving these and other key projects forward which will help build an economic base to lead Ely to a bright future.


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