By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — While congressional and legislative races have contrasts baked into the two-party system, it can be harder to differentiate nonpartisan City Council candidates. Opposing candidates often say similar things about wanting to balance the budget while maintaining core services.
In Ward 2, though, voters can see some sunlight between incumbent Tamra Rovney and Dennis Dieken, who is waging a write-in campaign.
Dieken said he wouldn’t have voted for the construction of a $1.48 million airport building this summer, which Rovney voted for. He said he wouldn’t have supported it “without more insurance that it would, indeed, be used.”
The council voted 5-2 for the hangar in hopes an airport business would help make the airport sustainable in the long term.
While Rovney voted in August to oppose the gay marriage amendment, Dieken said it’s not the city’s business.
To Rovney, the issue with the amendment is less about gay marriage and more about using the state constitution to reduce minority rights. She would oppose any such constitutional amendment, she said.
Dieken said the proposed expansion to the Verizon Wireless Center should be put to a citywide vote. Rovney, along with the rest of the City Council, has not advocated such a vote.
Rovney called the expansion “very important” for local business, for Minnesota State University and for the city. “It’s a big partnership.”
Rovney is seeking a third term on the council; Dieken is making his first run for public office.
Dieken’s name won’t be on the ballot because he didn’t file during the two-week filing period in late May and early June. He said he forgot to file because he believed Mankato used the later filing period, in August. Cities without primaries use the later filing dates.
Rovney, who was unopposed in 2008, said she’s not taking the challenge lightly.
“I made a commitment back in the early summer that this was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I will be getting literature out and talking to people before the election.”
Both candidates have a lot of ground to cover; Ward 2 is the city’s largest. It covers North End neighborhoods as well as most of hilltop Mankato north of Madison Avenue.
Ask the candidates why they’re running and you’ll get some very different answers.
Rovney said she’s running to continue what she views as the city’s progress in recent years.
“There’s a lot going on, a huge amount of things happening with the city,” she said.
Rovney said the city has strengthened its business partnerships with the downtown business community through the City Center Partnership. For the past several years, the city has given $25,000 to the partnership, though Rovney said the group is heading toward self-sufficiency.
Rovney also cited the city effort to enlist the help of local businesses in maintaining flower planters.
She also called the community policing model headed by Public Safety Director Todd Miller a “complete asset to our communities.”
Having police officers assigned to neighborhoods makes people more comfortable because they get used to seeing the same faces, she said.
Rovney also said the council has kept the levy down despite losing more than $3 million in state aid.
“We’re just bare bones,” she said.
Still, she has occasionally opposed cuts to quality of life services, such as a reduction in tree planting.
“I know there has to be a balance. They’re just amenities people have come to expect. It’s very easy for people to say we should just cut it, but you’d lose a lot in your city,” she said.
Dieken said he’s running to improve communication between the ward and its councilor.
“I think I can improve that,” he said.
For example, he’d like to have monthly meetings, borrowing an idea from Councilwoman Karen Foreman.
He said he would always vote in accordance with what the ward’s residents think.
“It’s about the ward, it’s not about Dennis,” he said.
Some people whose door he knocks on “wonder who the incumbent is.”
“Hopefully, I can change that,” he said.
He also said the city shouldn’t have spent the $3,000 or so it did to send two councilors to a Moldova city celebrating its 550th anniversary.
“I don’t know that the city gained anything,” he said.
Rovney disputes the argument that she doesn’t communicate with residents enough.
She said she attends neighborhood association meetings, though not every one. She also said she meets with residents regularly and is available for questions.
“I feel like I am out there. I do want to talk to people,” she said.