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Mayor’s race pits councilor against incumbent

BEMIDJI – Rita Albrecht believes the city deserves a mayor who is engaged and educated on the history of the community.

Albrecht, currently the Ward 4 city councilor, will challenge incumbent Mayor Dave Larson in the Nov. 6 general election after the two advanced during Tuesday’s primary election.

Larson is seeking his second two-year term.

“I hesitate to say the mayor has done a poor job. I don’t think he’s done a poor job,” Albrecht said Wednesday, the morning after she learned that she and Larson had advanced. “I believe that the mayor needs to be more engaged in the community and have a better understanding of the community.”

Albrecht, who has lived in Bemidji for more than 35 years, was the top vote-getter in the three-way primary election for mayor. She garnered 467 votes, or 50.4 percent, while Larson received 380, or 41 percent. Sachel Josefson collected 79 votes, or 8.5 percent.

“I think that the results are what we had anticipated based on the effort that each one of us put in,” Larson said.

Larson, who moved here a little more than five years ago, was criticized in the 2010 election for seeking the mayoral seat as a relatively new city resident.

Larson, an architect with EAPC in Bemidji, said his newness to the area has not been an issue for him as mayor. Likewise, he said, he has not heard criticisms from constituents to that effect.

“I certainly enjoy it and I believe I’m able to make a difference by being conservative on financial issues,” Larson said. “With every issue, I want to make sure my position on it is going to protect and enhance the safety, health and well-being of every citizen.”

Larson said he tries to carefully research all of the issues in advance of when they come before the council for consideration.

“You want to make sure you have all of the information, and, once you have all of the information, which you do by the time you vote on it, your vote is consistent with what you believe is best for the people as well as my own personal convictions,” he said.

Albrecht was the top vote-getting in Tuesday’s primary, although fewer than eight votes separated the winner in three wards.

Citywide, just more than 13 percent of all registered voters went to the polls. Ward 2 had the highest voter turnout with 18 percent while Ward 1 was lowest at 8 percent.

This is the first time in several years a sitting city councilor is challenging the incumbent mayor.

Larson said he wasn’t surprised that a sitting councilor opted to run against him this year. Each of the city’s six councilors serve four-year terms, so he expected one of those not up for re-election would challenge him for the seat.

“I’d rather anticipated that someone who was mid-term into a four-year term as councilor (would file),” Larson said. “They have nothing to lose.”

Such was the case two years ago when Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson sought the mayoral position against Larson; then-mayor Richard Lehmann was not seeking re-election. Johnson was two years into his term as a city councilor at the time. Even though he lost – Larson received 52.8 percent of votes compared to Johnson’s 45.6 – Johnson retained his Ward 3 council seat.

Albrecht, who like Larson joined the council for the first time in 2010, said she could have chosen to run for mayor that year, too, but, instead, sought the Ward 4 seat against then-incumbent Jerry Downs.

“I chose not to because I really wanted to see how I liked being on the council,” she said. “I thought I would like it and it turned out that I did like it.”

This year, she said, she decided to run for mayor after residents asked her to do so.

Albrecht has an interesting history with the city. She initially was hired by the city as assistant city planner but left that job for a position with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission. She re-joined city staff as community development commission in 2008 but left in 2009 after the council voted to eliminate her position.

“I would love to still be working for the city because that’s what I’m trained in and that’s where my skills lie,” Albrecht said.

But, since that isn’t a possibility right now, she said, serving as a city councilor or mayor is a good fit for her as well.

“It’s another way for me to be engaged with the city and help the city move forward,” she said.