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Don Heinonen relying on city government knowledge in Ward 5 race

Don Heinonen, a 57-year-old fleet shop manager, is making his second bid for the Bemidji City Council's Ward 5 seat in a short time frame. He also ran for the position in 2020.

Don Heinonen for web.jpg
Don Heinonen

BEMIDJI -- Just over a year after falling short against former Bemidji City Council member Nancy Erickson, Don Heinonen is gearing up for another shot at Ward 5.

This week, the 57-year-old shop fleet manager filed to run for the open Ward 5 seat on the Bemidji City Council . A graduate of Northwest Technical College, Heinonen has been a resident of Bemidji for 38 years and has run for city office in several election cycles.

In 2014, Heinonen was defeated by Dave Larson, 2,512-1,077 for the council's At Large seat. In 2016, Heinonen ran against Erickson and was edged out 682-664. Heinonen made another attempt at the At Large seat in 2018 but was defeated by the late Jim Thompson, 2,234-2,194.

In the 2020 race for Ward 5, Erickson won 797-637. It was her third consecutive win and her fifth overall. Erickson served on the council from 2000-2008 and was elected back to the governing body in 2012.

On Sept. 8, though, Erickson resigned from her position on the city council. In a letter, Erickson wrote, "the council is moving Bemidji in fundamental directions that I can't support. I am no longer able to effectively represent our citizens with confidence."

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With the Ward 5 seat once again up for an election, Heinonen saw fit to run for office again. If elected, Heinonen said his knowledge of current city issues will make him able to get work done from day one.

"I feel I have the expertise because I've been involved with city government stuff for nearly 20 years," Heinonen said. "I've been at nearly every council meeting for 14 years, I'm aware of what's going on, all of the ins and outs, and I'm on a first-name basis with nearly all of city staff."

That aspect is especially important to Heinonen, as he said the ward needs a council member who knows about city issues from the start.

"We may not have a candidate seated until August," Heinonen said. "It will almost be a year then without representation for Ward 5. So, whoever's going to take that seat will have to have some really good knowledge to be able to get anything done with what's essentially a two-year term."

If he's successful in winning the Ward 5 seat, Heinonen said public safety will be a focus.

"I think the No. 1 priority we're seeing in our community is public safety," Heinonen said. "The amount of violent crime has really been increasing a lot. We need to try and figure out a way to curtail the activity that's going on. It's only in some neighborhoods right now, but it can spread, and we need to catch it before it does."

The city's tax policy is another area of concern for Heinonen, with the candidate arguing that it's too high.

"There's going to be an 8% tax levy increase this year," Heinonen said. "With the pandemic and everything else from the last year, we have a lot of people now on assistance and fixed incomes. My fear is people won't be able to afford their homes anymore."

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The other candidates seeking the Ward 5 seat are Lynn Eaton, Bill Batchelder and Micaiah Graham. The filing period for the Ward 5 race closes Dec. 14.

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