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Two new Bemidji councilors elected; Hellquist pleased with win

Get ready for a new-look Bemidji City Council.

Come January, three members of the seven-person council will be new faces.

In addition to Bemidji's new mayor, Dave Larson, there also will be two new councilors, Rita Albrecht and Jim Thompson.

Albrecht, a former city staffer, unseated current Ward 2 Councilor Jerry Downs in Tuesday's general election.

Thompson narrowly won election for the at-large councilor position over lifelong resident Linda Lemmer.

The only candidate winning re-election on the council was Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist.

"I'm pleased that I won," said Hellquist, who garnered .291 votes (55 percent) to Sathers' 232 votes (44 percent). "I called and talked to (Sathers) and congratulated him on a good campaign. I appreciated his keeping it on a high level."

Sathers, the city's retired fire chief, said he watched the numbers come in around midnight and knew he was not going to be the winner.

"Of course I'm disappointed, but I'm doing OK," he said.

"I knew this was going to be a race that could definitely go either way."

Hellquist said he door-knocked throughout his ward two full times and made it around a partial third time before Election Day.

"People chuckled when they saw me coming (that third time)," he recalled.

Hellquist credited Sathers with a strong campaign that forced the incumbent to work hard for each vote. Likewise, Sathers said he was pleased with the clean race.

Hellquist was unopposed in 2006 and fought a first tough campaign against Ted Thorson in 2002.

Sathers said he enjoyed the experience.

"Without a doubt," he said. "It was a huge learning experience. I'm definitely glad I did it."

The closest city race was for the at-large councilor position. Both Thompson and Lemmer were newcomers to Bemidji elections, although Thompson previously was a member of the Northern Town Board, through which he served on the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board.

Thompson relied on newspaper advertisements and the forums to get his platform out; Lemmer door-knocked and had campaign signs.

Thompson ended up winning the election with 1,736 votes (51 percent) to Lemmer's 1,611 votes (48 percent). He won all but one ward.

"I'm very pleased, grateful to the citizens of Bemidji," he said.

He said Lemmer worked very hard and put a lot of effort into the campaign.

"I really admire her for that," he said, noting that he was not enthusiastic about door-knocking because it would be difficult to door-knock throughout the entire city.

Lemmer, who heard the results late Tuesday night, said she enjoyed getting to know residents and reconnecting with old acquaintances.

"Door-knocking really energizes one," Lemmer said. "I liked meeting people, that was the fun part."

She acknowledged that it was disappointing to lose, especially considering the amount of time and effort she put into the campaign.

"I gave it my best shot," she said. "It was a great experience and I learned a lot."

But she said she is not planning to run for public office again.

"If anything comes out of it, I hope people know even they can do it, they just need to be willing to work hard and be open and honest," she said. "If people thing there needs to be a change, maybe they're the people who need to be there to make that change."

Thompson said he plans to attend council meetings until he is sworn into office in January.

"I will learn as much as I can between now and the first of the year," he said. "So I can try to contribute the best I can."

Albrecht said she was pleasantly surprised to learn she won election over Downs, the Ward 2 incumbent. She had 388 votes (54 percent) versus Downs' 321 votes (45 percent).

"I'm pleased and surprised," she said. "It's not easy to unseat a nine-year incumbent."

Downs said he has more than 30 years of serving the community, including 20 years as a volunteer firefighter and nine years on the council.

"I've paid my dues, I've given back to the community," he said. "I think I've done a good job of it."

Albrecht agreed, saying that she appreciates the service Downs has provided.

"It's not easy to be on the City Council making those difficult decisions at every meeting," she said. "He served as a particularly contentious time in our city's growth and I do appreciate the hard work he's put in."

Downs said he is proud of the accomplishments the council has had in the past nine years, including parks and trails improvements, the Bemidji Regional Event Center and south shore development.

"In nine years, I think we've accomplished an awful lot of good for this community and moved this community forward as a regional center," he said.

Albrecht said she will attend council meetings and also will consider some training sessions that the League of Minnesota Cities offers for new local officials.

"I'm looking forward to some of the issues and challenges to come before us," she said. "I'm looking forward to working with the council. It's going to be fun and different."

Downs said he hopes the new council continues to support the work of the current council and remains fiscally responsible in its decision-making.

"I hope the direction and momentum we've created on the council can continue," he said. "I hope they look at what's best for the greater good of the city."

At-large councilor results

Ward 1: Thompson, 185 votes (52 percent); Lemmer, 166 votes (47 percent); three write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 2: Lemmer, 276 votes (53 percent); Thompson, 235 votes (45 percent); six write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 3: Thompson, 490 votes (53 percent); Lemmer, 435 votes (47 percent); four write-in votes (less than 1 percent).

Ward 4: Thompson, 340 votes (52 percent); Lemmer, 307 votes (47 percent); six write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 5: Thompson, 486 votes (53 percent); Lemmer, 427 votes (46 percent); six write-in votes (1 percent).

Total: Thompson, 1,736 votes (51 percent); Lemmer, 1,611 votes (48 percent); 25 write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 2 council

Ward 2: Hellquist, 291 votes (55 percent); Sathers, 232 votes (44 percent); six write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 4 council

Ward 4: Albrecht, 388 votes (54 percent); Downs, 321 votes (45 percent); three write-in votes (less than 1 percent).