Election preview: Rochester Ward 3
Back in August, we published a comprehensive guide to city elections. We asked candidates for local office to share how they planned to strengthen neighborhoods, balance economic growth with affordability, and address the most common concerns they were hearing from voters.
Out of the five city positions on the ballot this year, we covered the four races with primaries. As a result, we skipped over the Ward 3 race — which did not require a primary because only two candidates filed for office.
Now, just weeks away from the general election, we decided it was time to hear from the two candidates for Rochester City Council Ward 3. We reached out to incumbent Council Member Nick Campion and his challenger, Arlo Kroening, to better understand where they stand on the issues.
Here is what each of them had to say.
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Rochester at this moment? If elected, what specific position(s) would you take to address the issue?
Campion: Strengthen our neighborhoods. We need to balance investments throughout the city to ensure that this city is as rewarding a place to live and play as it is to work. Rochester must attract and retain a workforce capable of driving our advanced economy. Great places to live, get educated and build a family are important strengths for attracting people to our community.
Kroening: I share the option with most residents that growth is needed to keep our great city vibrant and economically thriving but at even pace. A recent questionnaire went out to a select amount of our city residents and losing Rochester’s ‘ small town feeling’ was an issue. Our residents want to live in a safe city with all the amenities of a large city but also have that down home atmosphere. If I’m elected I will try to balance both sides of this equation with developers and neighborhoods to keep a great balance.
Tell us one decision made by the city over the past two years that you disagree with. What would you like to see done differently?
Campion: When a private developer encountered unexpected hardships, the city bailed it out. We had agreed up front on some funding assistance in exchange for affordable housing. I voted against this bailout funding because I believe it sends entirely the wrong message to both our taxpayers and to other developers. When a private company stands to profit, we should expect them to accept the risks.
Kroening: There are many things over the years in our city that seemed to not make sense but intentions might be good. One example is in our Ward 3. Our new 55th street project is finally done and great! But if you are not familiar with the new road and crossing over West Circle Drive it can be treacherous. The hump in the median of the toad can cause you to have front tires catching air if going more than twenty miles an hour! We gotta plan better in the future.
The city is experiencing an economic boom. Still, many residents and business owners remain concerned about affordability. How would you work to ensure the city's growth is managed responsibly?
Campion: I have pushed and will continue to push to prioritize our investments and develop a five year capital improvement plan. A key part of controlling expenses, and thusly tax growth, is knowing what expenses to expect. Year-to-year budgeting has failed us in this regard. We are in the process of updating our process and we will see great value in a new budgeting system focused on the long term and makes property tax impacts a priority.
Kroening: The worries are always going to be there in how to budget the growth of a city. But the concept is pretty simple. We have to weigh our ‘wants’ with our actual ‘needs’. For instance, I would love to buy a brand new beautiful truck. But, my old rusty ford works just fine and I’ve got a family and mortgage to pay. The truck, like our city, has to be maintained for it to work properly but not completely replaced. We cannot just ‘tax and spend’ on things we do not have a budget for.
Some cities have decided to take the lead on issues such as minimum wage and paid leave. Do you feel Rochester should be doing the same, or are these issues best left to the state and federal levels?
Campion: I think the city level is currently America’s laboratory for future governing experiments. There will be successes and failures. I think that Rochester has an opportunity, and a duty, to learn from other cities’ successes and failures. I want to consider options that have proven successful elsewhere. The ability to act comes with the need to be judicious and avoid negative unintended consequences. That said, we absolutely must retain our autonomy and the state should not restrict local governments ability to be act responsively.
Kroening: There has to be an incentive for a new employees to get through the training process and dedicate themselves to a new job. I ran a small business and always rewarded my employees for making my job easier which also made the owners jobs easier. Also so many times a business pays to have someone train a new hire for them to just disappear after the first paycheck. So, a good starting wage with a grace period with a promise of future wage increases is wise and very fair.
Destination Medical Center is focused on a relatively small chunk of the city. What initiatives or policies could be adopted to strengthen our neighborhoods outside the downtown?
Campion: I think our community is most attractive when we have a variety of great neighborhoods to live in and a powerful economy that works for all residents. We should be committed to a balance between downtown investments and those in our neighborhoods. Increasing neighborhood grants, modernizing park funding models and matching percentage investments within DMC with neighborhood investments are priorities for me.
Kroening: The DMC project is very exciting and will bring a lot of jobs and opportunities to our community. So the real test will be maintaining our inner city neighborhoods integrity while allowing the downtown commercial and residential growth. I honestly can’t point out any specific policies until the projects are brought to the table. I do know that we need to place affordable hosing and parks/bike paths where it is accessible to downtown. This will be challenging but crucial to keeping our current residents happy and also attracting future family’s and workers.
The city council is responsible for oversight of the largest public-private partnership in Minnesota history. What criteria would you like to see applied to developers seeking public assistance?
Campion: The most important thing about DMC is that it needs to work for our whole community. As we review expenditures, our eye must always be toward the needs of everyone. Every candidate says this so it’s important to know what each supports to make it actually happen. I support limits on public tax investments in private projects that include setting a sliding scale for public support depending on use type. As noted above, I also support matching DMC zone investments with those in neighborhood amenities like parks.
Kroening: So to me, this should be pretty cut and dry. If a developer wants tax incentives, they should give our community an incentive to do so. It could be a percentage of a new project as affordable housing, new retail space that will form jobs, or green gathering spaces for our community.
As you have been campaigning this summer, what have you been hearing from residents in your ward? Tell us how you would work to address at least one issue specifically affecting your ward.
Campion: On countless doorsteps I have heard about the need for investing in our Ward 3 neighborhoods. Sometimes the discussion is about our parks. Sometimes about our bus stops. Sometimes it’s schools. But the common message is the desire for the place we call home to be amazing. The best way to address this is to balance investment throughout our community. It is not enough to have an amazing downtown. Equally great places to live, work and play are Rochester’s greatest competitive advantage.
Kroening: The best thing I’ve gotten out of campaigning is meeting all kinds of new friends in our Ward 3 and city. One if the biggest city concern is the need for parking in downtown Rochester. But the biggest concern in our Ward 3 has been making sure that as we continue to grow commercially and residentially we have adequate parks, bike paths, and just general green spaces in the plans. So far Rochester has done a good job at this, but it’s our job to keep it up.
What else should voters know about you?
Campion: Serving on the city council is an opportunity to give back to the community that gave me so much. I grew up in Rochester and my children will grow up in Rochester. I’ve served in volunteer organizations, on advisory boards and for four years on the City Council. The success of this community means more to me than political goals. I want Rochester to be as great for the next generation as it has been for me. That is why I ran. It is why I run. And it is how I will continue to lead our community forward.
Kroening: I will be honest in the fact that I was excited but also hesitant to run for city council in the beginning. I had been thinking about a way to give back to my community and using my common sense skills to get involved. But I have never been involved with politics or city government other than my local Union 681. Between my family, friends, and tons of supporters I was convinced that maybe change in the council might be welcomed. I hope the community will embrace a candidate that’s a normal blue collar working person. So I am confident that what I may lacking political knowledge I make up for in honesty and leadership. I look forward to being ONE of Ward 3’s many voices and delivering them to the city council.
Election Day is November 6. Early voting is already under way in Minnesota. Unsure what ward you live in? View a map here.
Cover photo: Left to right, Campion and Kroening