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Audrey Thayer defeats Ron Johnson in At-Large race for Bemidji City Council

Audrey Thayer won a narrow victory Tuesday, Nov. 8, over Ron Johnson for the Bemidji City Council's At-Large seat, receiving 50.15% of the vote, or 2,346 votes, compared to Johnson’s 2,293. A mere difference of 53 votes.

Audrey Thayer horizontal.jpg
Audrey Thayer
Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — Audrey Thayer won a narrow victory in the election Tuesday, Nov. 8, over Ron Johnson for the Bemidji City Council's At-Large seat.

Thayer beat out Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson, receiving 50.15% of the vote, or 2,346 votes, compared to Johnson’s 2,293. A mere difference of 53 votes.

Thayer, who has been on the council representing Ward 1 since she was first elected in 2020 defeating Joe Gould 476-408, is an instructor at Leech Lake Tribal College, a member of White Earth Nation and has lived in Bemidji for more than 30 years.

Now she will take over the At-Large seat from current representative Daniel Jourdain, who ran for reelection but did not make it through the primary in August.

"Wow, all I can say is wow," she said of her win on Wednesday. "For women to win races in the political arena alone today is a challenge. We are still pretty male-dominated in our political system. So for women to win any kind of opportunity, whether it's local, state or national government, is a feat."

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She added how grateful she has been to work with Johnson over the past two years and said that he has served the city well in his 22-year tenure.

Johnson is currently the council representative for Ward 3, a position he was unable to run for again following redistricting leading him to run for the At-Large spot. His current term representing Ward 3 continues through 2024.

He was first elected to the city council in 2000 and is serving his sixth consecutive term, which he won in 2020 after defeating challenger Greg Kuhn 924-608. He is a promotion manager for Lakeland PBS.

Since taking over the At-Large seat in January means that Thayer will vacate her Ward 1 seat for her term’s remaining two years, a special election will have to be held to find a new Ward 1 representative for the city council.

“I chose to run for this seat so I could serve the entire city, as I believe I have been,” Thayer said. “I believe that it is our responsibility to actually be out in the community, building bridges and listening to everyone.”

In addition to her work as an educator and councilor, Thayer has also been involved in community service, participating in the Ridgeway Neighborhood Initiative and working with Bemidji’s homeless population for what she estimated is about 15-20 years.

"An analogy I used when I won in 2020 is how when you throw a pebble in the water it makes a lot of these little waves," she said. "And I knew that no matter how I moved, it was going to make changes in the city. But it's been good changes."

She is proud of the things she's helped accomplish in the past two years, including the creation of the Police Advisory Committee, getting new management in place at the Sanford Center and the current work being done in the Rail Corridor and ensuring that turns into a community-centered project.

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"I'm really grateful to the voters in the city of Bemidji," Thayer added. "I won by 53 votes, we knew it was going to be close but I didn't think it would be that close. ... I have agreed to be married to the city for four years, no divorce, and we're going to work hard together. We're going to live together in unity and we're going to be a good city by working together."

Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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