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The Carletonian

Students Able to Participate in City Council Election

<v. 5 is Election Day this year in Northfield, Minnesota. Because this is an odd numbered year, most of the city will not be voting, but there is one election for the Northfield City Council Ward 4 seat that has turned contentious in recent days.

Ward 4 stretches from St. Olaf College through the downtown area on both sides of the river and then up to the edges of Carleton. Most Carleton students live in Ward 1, but because of where the lines are drawn, about 150 Carleton students will be eligible to vote in the Ward 4 special election.

Students living south of 2nd Street and west of Winona St. live in Ward 4. This includes Parish, Hill, Douglas (Fish), Page, Rice, and Jewett (Culinary) Houses as well as many students who live off campus.

The race is to permanently fill a vacancy on the council that was created when former City Council Member Patrick Ganey resigned from the council. Ganey left his job as a development officer at Carleton to take a position at Middlebury College and moved out of Northfield. Jessica Peterson White was appointed by the city council to serve in his place.

Three candidates have filed to seek the seat until the next election in a year: Jessica Peterson White, Rick Esse, and Scott Oney. Jessica Peterson White, a Carleton alumna who currently works for the Alumni Relations Office as the 25th Reunion Officer at Carleton, previously served as Rice County Commissioner from 2004 to 2006 and then on the Rice County Planning Commission from 2006 to 2009. 

Rick Esse, a St. Olaf grad,  has been active in many local community organizations. He currently works as the Senior Communications Counselor and Vice President at Neuger Communications Group, located in downtown Northfield. Scott Oney has lived in Northfield for 26 years and works downtown as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader.

The three candidates have been running three very different campaigns. Peterson White has focused on smart growth and development in Northfield, balancing the business growth with concern for the environment and residential concerns. She has said that she wants to continue to serve a “community that supports people at all stages of life, and invests in economic prosperity for the long term and for the common good.”

Esse has made economic development the central point of his campaign. He wants to help Northfield “overcome its reputation for not being ‘business friendly.’” Oney wants the city to refocus its priorities on the basics of governing. Arguing that he wants to “bring some fairness and common sense to the council,” Oney promises to “focus on the basics” if elected to the council and ask “do we really need it?” before spending money as on the city council.

Moving into the last week of the election, the race has become more controversial and heated. A recent letter to the Northfield News urged Northfield residents to vote against Peterson White because she and the other three women on the city council allegedly vote the same way too often.

The author of the letter went on to argue that the women on the council have been fiscally irresponsible and should all be replaced. While the voting block numbers cited were debunked by a local blogger – and Carleton professor – Rob Hardy, the letter to the editor nonetheless injected a distinctly gendered aspect into the election, advocating for one of the male candidates to replace Peterson White. 

The other controversy that has enlivened the campaign occurred when Northfield’s mayor, Dana Graham, wrote a letter entitled “Northfield Mayor Endorses Rick Esse for Council Seat” to the Northfield News. Esse and Oney argued during the last city council debate that the mayor’s endorsement was appropriate because he is a private citizen, but Peterson White argued that the mayor should not “try to hand pick the council.”

While the mayor’s endorsement could hurt his relationship with his fellow councilors, it could also potentially be illegal. A letter to the Northfield News raised this exact point earlier this week; under Minnesota state law outlined in the Secretary of State’s 2012 Campaign Manual, city officials “may not use official authority or influence to… take part in political activity.”  The mayor’s critics allege that by endorsing Esse as the mayor of Northfield, he was using the influence of his office unfairly.

Carleton students who live in Ward 4 and want to vote in Northfield are welcome to do so. Transportation to the polls is being funded by the Office of External Relations and coordinated through the Center for Civic and Community Engagement. A shuttle will be running from in front of Willis Hall every 15 minutes from noon to 5pm. It will drop students off at the polling place – St. John’s Lutheran Church (500 Third St. W) and will bring them back to campus after voting.

Students who are planning to vote in Northfield are highly encouraged to do more research on the candidates and issues. Check out and Northfield Patch’s election guides as well as the Northfield News for more information.

Minnesota has same day voter registration, so students who live on campus can take their One Cards with them to the polls and register vote. Students who live in Northfield Option housing should take proof of residence (e.g. a utility bill) and a photo id.

All of the normal criteria apply to voting in this election – you must be at least 18 or older and a US citizen. More information on voting can be found at the MN Sec of State’s website.

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