The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Election News

October 27, 2010

Ward 5 race a battle over Mankato's stewardship

MANKATO — The voters of west Mankato have a clear choice between a three-term incumbent who defends the city’s record and a challenger who sees wasted spending across the city.

Joe Steck, an insurance salesman who bought his childhood home on Blue Earth Street, said the overspending that triggered debt crises gripping the nation didn’t start in St. Paul or Washington, D.C.

“ ... It started in cities like Mankato,” he said.

Incumbent Jack Considine said the council members have been “responsible stewards of the tax dollar.”

He said he’d run on the merits of the city’s accomplishments.

Steck doesn’t like the city spending $3 million on Riverfront Park when he says another park (Sibley) offers a riverside experience with an amphitheater.

He’s also bothered by the median and lack of stop signs on his street.

“Quite frankly, it’s the little things,” he said.

When asked about the highlights of his most recent term, Considine doesn’t mention the smoking ban, chicken ordinance or any of the controversial issues he views as more noise than substance.

Along with Councilman Mark Frost, Considine sat on a task force for the new water treatment plant. As a result, he said, Mankato will have secure, quality drinking water for 50 years.

Riverfront Park “turned out to be just a jewel,” he said. “I don’t think the jury’s out on that anymore.”

Other accomplishments include the improvements to the city’s credit rating, extending wastewater service to nearby cities and cleaner discharge from the wastewater plant.

The 5th Ward includes the neighborhood around Sibley Park as well as the western portion of the Lincoln Park neighborhoods. Considine took the seat after running unopposed in 1998 and defended it twice. In 2002, he beat Tate Palmer 1,453 votes to 743 and in 2006 defeated Mike Lagerquist 1,229 votes to 942.

In 2006, Considine said he would have a hard time envisioning a scenario where he’d run again.

The difficulties of working a full-time job coordinating programs for inmates at the jail along with council duties were starting to wear on him. The county, however, offered retirement incentives and Considine plans to work his last day at the county at the end of this year.

He’ll have more time on his hands, and, if re-elected, said he’ll spend some of it representating Mankato on one of the state’s two associations for cities.

Steck’s priorities, he said, would be police, fire, streets and utilities.

“We have to get back to that, taking care of the simple things,” he said.

For example, he’s dismayed at the city’s attempt to purchase the U.S. Bank building downtown for a theater expansion to the Verizon Wireless Center. The city already has two higher-education theaters, he said.

Whether it’s subsidies for downtown business, flower planters, decorative streetlamps or the spacious bathrooms at Riverfront Park, Steck has a litany of examples of what he believes are out-of-control spending.

“Plain and simple, these are tough times and tough decisions will have to be made,” he said.

He has other criticisms as well: the lack of conservative voices in the Envision 2020 planning process, poor communication with neighborhoods and not enough public discussion on some council decisions.

Considine has had at least one disappointment from his last term: a 2008 ordinance he supported to require the prevailing wage paid to workers on city-sponsored jobs. The prevailing wage is the wage at which most workers in the particular trade are paid — typically the union wage.

At the time, Considine issued a rare critique of city staff for a report that said the proposal would cost, at minimum, between $860,000 and $987,000 in one year in increased construction and enforcement costs. The proposal was voted down by the council.

The election is Tuesday.

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