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Larson celebrates victory as Bemidji's next mayor

City employee Al Gorick, left, congratulates Mayor-elect David Larson as he left City Hall Wednesday afternoon. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

It probably was not the most traditional path to becoming a city's mayor.

Dave Larson, 66, an architect with EAPC, moved into the city of Bemidji three and a half years ago.

On Tuesday, he was elected mayor over lifelong resident Ron Johnson, the city's current Ward 3 councilor.

Larson garnered 1,915 votes (53 percent) to Johnson's 1,656 votes (46 percent). He also swept every ward in the city.

"I was pleased," Larson said of the results. "I felt good about it from the beginning, just having a confidence in it being the right thing, that it was the thing I was supposed to be doing."

Johnson, 60, will remain on the City Council as the Ward 3 representative, a position that was not up for election this year.

"I'm a little bit surprised, disappointed," he said.

But he said he expected the race to be close based on the August primary, when he and Larson were the top vote-getters of five candidates. Larson edged Johnson in that election, too: 470 votes to 465.

"It was a strange campaign for me," Johnson said.

He said he went door-knocking and people just did not seem to have a lot of interest in the local issues. Johnson would talk about Local Government Aid and how its loss could drastically affect the city budget, but residents did not seem tuned in.

"I was not finding a lot of interest," he said.

Larson, who has served on the city's Design Review Committee and Downtown Development Authority, said he was encouraged by several members of the current council to seek the mayoral seat.

One of his goals in the campaign was to get in touch with the people.

"The way to do that, of course, is to knock on doors, introduce yourself and listen to them," he said.

He hosted three open houses and said he will continue to hold open meetings during which residents can come and talk to him about issues facing the city.

"I care about people," he said.

Larson also plans to encourage his fellow councilors to offer similar opportunities for the public to approach them.

Johnson said he was surprised at the turnout on Tuesday. There were about 2,600 fewer voters from 2008, the last mayoral election, about 600 fewer from 2006, the last midterm election year.

Johnson pointed out that the current council has dealt with some important yet contentious issues, such as the south shore development, Bemidji Regional Event Center, rentals limits and/or moratorium and the creation of the Bemidji Regional Airport Authority.

Opposition to some of those issues has existed, he said.

But, "that's part of the deal" of politics, he said, noting that an elected official cannot not take a position on controversial subjects just to protect his job.

"You have to be able to take the hits," he said.

Larson said his plan now is to continue attending council meetings as an observer until he is sworn into office in January.

With family visiting from out of town Wednesday, Larson said he had the privilege of bragging about the work Bemidji has done as he led tours of the Bemidji Regional Event Center and the Bemidji Skate Park.

He also prepared a letter in which he thanked all his campaigners, supporters and voters.

"Thanks to every voter who has put their confidence and trust in me as mayor," he said. "I will represent them and lead by example."

Johnson said he is looking forward to working with the new council next year.

"I think we're going to have a good council. I'm going to miss Jerry, but I know Rita, too," he said, referencing Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Downs, who was unseated by challenger Rita Albrecht.

Johnson noted that he appreciated that the mayoral race was clean and cordial.

"I think (Larson) will be like that on the council, too," he said. "I think he'll be an easy guy to work with."

Mayoral results

Ward 1: Larson, 223 votes (55 percent); Johnson, 175 votes (43 percent); five write-in votes (1 percent).

Ward 2: Larson, 276 votes (50 percent); Johnson, 265 votes (48 percent); 10 write-in votes (2 percent).

Ward 3: Larson, 492 votes (51 percent); Johnson, 476 votes (49 percent); six write-in votes (less than 1 percent).

Ward 4: Larson, 366 votes (51 percent); Johnson 329 votes (46 percent); 16 rite-in votes (2 percent).

Ward 5: Larson, 588 votes (56 percent); Johnson, 411 votes (41 percent); 22 write-in votes (2 percent).

Total: Larson, 1,915 votes (53 percent); Johnson, 1,656 votes (46 percent); 59 write-in votes (2 percent).