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We are opposed to the notion that you are the first to be unopposed, Mr. Ness

At least one news organization reported yesterday that Mayor Don Ness is the first Duluth mayor to be unopposed in an election. Well, it’s not true.

Mayor Ness is indeed the only mayor in the past 126 years to go unopposed, but Maryanne Norton at the Duluth Public Library has found three Duluth mayors in the 1800s who were unopposed.

Sidney Luce was elected unopposed in 1872 and served one term.

Dr. Vespasian Smith was elected twice with no opposition — in 1873 and 1874. (Mayors served one-year terms until 1913, when the current four-year system began.)

Horace B. Moore was elected unopposed in 1885 and served one term.

Local historian and book publisher Tony Dierckins notes there were few people living in Duluth when Luce and Smith were elected, so it’s not really surprising they ran unopposed. And Moore was elected during the period in which Duluth had lost its city status and was a township. (So although Moore is kind of considered a mayor in retrospect, at the time he was actually village president).

Anyway, in spite of all that, Ness running unopposed in 2011 is still a remarkable historical note.

(By the way, some news organizations did phrase the story properly, noting that it’s the “first time in more than a century” a Duluth mayor has gone unopposed. However, at least one mentioned “Mayor Ness is the first mayor in the city’s history to run unopposed,” and that is incorrect.)

29 Comment(s)

  1. Ahh, but Paul, the City was incorporated as a City in 1887. As you know, prior to that, Duluth was a collection of many very small townships. Were there some mayors of those townships who were elected unopposed? Yes. Has there been since Duluth became a City in 1887? No.

    That said, I’m actually disappointed that there is not a race. People deserve to be given a choice, especially for Mayor, I know there are a lot of people who have made it clear that they’ll never vote for me -- those folks deserve a candidate.

    It’s noteworthy, but not worth celebrating…

    Don Ness | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  2. Don, you still need to throw some fun campaign parties. You’re not off the hook.

    jake | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  3. OK, after a little research, now I need to qualify my comment. Duluth was a city from 1870 until 1877, then lost it’s charter from 1877-1887 and was a village for that decade.

    The city seal states 1887 as the date of incorporation and was the date used to describe 125 years of city history in which there was not an uncontested race. But it is more complicated than that.

    Don Ness | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  4. Dr. Vespasian Smith was elected twice with no opposition — in 1873 and 1974.”

    1. Vespasian is an AWESOME name.

    2. “1873 and 1974″? that’s 101 years apart. Now, I wouldn’t put it past a Dr. named “Vespasian.” This is getting more and more SciFi all the time!

    3. What say we do a write in campaign to re-elect him? That way he could be mayor in three centuries.

    Baci | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  5. As is always the case with writing something that corrects others, there was indeed a typo regarding 1874/1974. I’ve fixed that. Thanks Baci. (By the way, Vaspasian Bacigalupo is an even better name than Vespasian Smith.)

    Regarding the city/village and mayor/president confusion, I think the proper details are all there.

    Two mayors were elected without opposition — Sidney Luce and Dr. Vespasian Smith. Dr. Smith was elected without opposition twice.

    One village president was elected without opposition — Horace B. Moore.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  6. I’m going to write-in Sidney “Pizza” Luce.

    No, I’m not. I’m going to vote for Donny.

    doubledutch | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  7. Baci, obviously Maryanne meant 1874, but I like your take on the typo. And keep this in mind: the way you drive your motorcycle like it was merely a scooter is a phenomenon known as driving the “vespasian way.”

    Don, wish you had an opponent just to see the reaction of those angry trolls on the DNT Area Voices comment section.

    And it’s good to see you keeping up on this key element of Duluth history: Duluth became a city in March of 1871, thanks almost entirely to the investment made here by Jay Cooke, who also funded the digging of the ship canal (and just about every single other commercial operation in town). When Cooke went broke in the Panic of ’73, all his money, and the jobs that money created, pulled out of town. We couldn’t pay our debts, so in 1877 the state pulled our charter. Ten years later, thanks to the grain and timber that came through Duluth — and not Superior, thanks to the ship canal — finally paid off, we paid our debt, and became a city once again. (Iron ore didn’t come through Duluth until the 1890s).

    Duluth learned a big lesson, and never again has Duluth relied on the ideas of out-of-town absentee developers to bring the city financial success…

    Tony D. | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  8. Below is some info on ol’ Vespasian from the Oct. 12, 1897, Duluth News Tribune. There will be more where this came from, but it’s hot and I need to soak in the lake for a few hours.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  9. I think it’s great knowing that the naysayers who are always predicting Duluth’s imminent demise must be gnashing their teeth in fury that Don will be mayor for another four years — at least. I guess all the sound and fury will be in the school board races, you can already witness it now on Area Voices.

    Claire | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  10. I dibs “Sinks In His Last Sleep” for my obituary!

    Nick | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  11. Come on mayor. While I admire your politically correct and humble assessment of the state of local politics and the lack of an opponent for your re-election, I’m sure you and the missus are dancing a jig knowing there will be no campaign to wage. And who would blame you? Dance away Mayor, you earned it.

    dueces | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  12. “Duluth learned a big lesson, and never again has Duluth relied on the ideas of out-of-town absentee developers to bring the city financial success…”

    But when you talk about out-of-town, absentee consultants, on the other hand…

    Ramos | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  13. I start counting from 1877, for the same reason that Kilbourntown, Juneautown and Walker’s Point are not the same as Milwaukee. But also because I admire Donny Ness. I’ve seen him speak several times, and every time, he has said: I have hard decisions to make. And he makes them. (Reopen the Branch Libraries 5 days a week!) And still, he’s popular.

    Mark Dayton and Barack Obama and every Republican in the US could learn from this kind of Democrat.

    David Beard | Jul 20, 2011 | New Comment
  14. “Vote for Vespasian, Vote for Vitality!”

    Baci | Jul 21, 2011 | New Comment
  15. “Vote Vespasian, Vote Vitality!” is even better

    Baci | Jul 21, 2011 | New Comment
  16. One year after Dr. Vespasian Smith sunk in his sleep, his namesake grandson was shot in his sleep. Here’s the long, hard-to-read, but still interesting version of the story from the Oct. 24, 1898 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 21, 2011 | New Comment
  17. So they shot a sleeping man, and it is assumed they thought he was a deer? Isn’t it more likely they thought it was a vagrant, and therefore a disposable and/or troublesome semi-human? Vagrants were seen as a threat all across America during that time. (Even in Duluth, where it seems half the population got here as young male vagrants only 10-15 years prior.) And since our newspaper (not uniquely) was a sort of soothing presence in times of the unthinkable, it doesn’t seem unlikely they would gloss over a homeless murder by saying it was a mistake.

    hbh1 | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  18. Here’s the story on the death of Mayor Horace B. Moore, from the Dec. 24, 1906, Duluth News Tribune.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  19. Here’s some info on ol’ Sidney Luce, from back when he was still spry — Aug. 2, 1908.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  20. Of course four years later Mr. Luce wasn’t so spry. So it goes.

    The headline of this article is wrong, by the way, and the one in the previous story is correct. Joshua Culver was Duluth’s first mayor, Clinton Markell was the second, and Luce was the third.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  21. It has been a couple of days since I checked this thread. Wow, did it get dark!

    TimK | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  22. Don, are you sure you still wanna run? Turns out, after a hundred years or so, Duluth mayors tend to “sink in their last sleep.”

    Baci | Jul 22, 2011 | New Comment
  23. Yeah, what’s he got, what … 80-85 years til that happens?

    I dunno if it’s been brought up at all yet, anything’s possible, but is it at all unique that we have such a (relatively) young city leadership? The Council is still pretty mature with Stauber, et. al., but Don and Chief Ramsay are both relatively young, compared to the rest of the city government.

    Cuneo, Anderson and the rest are in their mid to late 30s, right? Early 40s?

    zra | Jul 23, 2011 | New Comment
  24. Zra, um…the long time between now and the “final slumber” was the joke I was, I guess unsuccessfully, attempting to craft.

    Baci | Jul 23, 2011 | New Comment
  25. Yep … and I was trying to insinuate that our good mayor was the ripe old age of 15.

    zra | Jul 23, 2011 | New Comment
  26. Well turned good sir, well turned. Here’s to four more years of hizhonor and mizhonor being Duluth’s first family!

    Baci | Jul 23, 2011 | New Comment
  27. In addition to not being the first mayor to run unopposed, Ness is also not the youngest mayor of Duluth. Not even close, and not even in recent history.

    Ness was 34 when he took office in 2008.

    John Fedo was 29 when he took office in 1980.

    Paul Lundgren | Jul 24, 2011 | New Comment
  28. Baci, you have something brown on your nose. I’d loan you my hanky but I’m busy using it to dry my tears from this love-fest. Seriously though, I think Mayor Ness is deserving of another term. I also wish there was an option, as I think it is part of a healthy process.

    If I were to field a complaint, it would relate to the treatment of the city employees who went on strike. Back pay was given after walking off of the job. This turned into nothing more than an extra paid vacation for these people. I appreciated the Mayor’s tough negotiating stance, but it seemed that in the end he caved. I am sick and tired of public employees having their contracts bolstered to that which far surpasses similar jobs in that field. Very tick-like behavior, especially in times of economic depression.

    Jim | Jul 27, 2011 | New Comment
  29. baci’s not brown nosing.

    most of us know hizzonner personally.

    zra | Jul 27, 2011 | New Comment

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