City, sheriff races heat up Tuesday

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 9, 2002

Voters will make the first decisions of the election year when they narrow the field of candidates for mayor of Albert Lea, Freeborn County sheriff and other offices during the primary election Tuesday.

In nonpartisan races with more than two candidates, the primary cuts the number down to two; in partisan elections with more than one candidate, each party’s voters choose one candidate to appear on the November ballot.

Local, nonpartisan races include mayor of Albert Lea, where five candidates will be on the ballot citywide; Freeborn County sheriff, with three candidates on the ballot countywide; and Albert Lea city councilor, with three candidates apiece running in wards two and four.

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The only local partisan race where voters will eliminate one candidate is the Independence Party primary for state senate in District 27, which includes Freeborn and Mower counties and part of Fillmore County. The major political parties will also have candidates facing off for a variety of statewide offices in the primary, including U.S. senator, governor of Minnesota, secretary of state, state auditor and others. In a partisan primary, voters can vote only for the candidates of one political party.

Here’s a rundown of who’s on the ballot in the local elections:

Mayor of Albert Lea:

This competitive five-way race features the runner-up from the 2000 mayoral election, a current city councilman, a former councilor, a former assistant Minnesota commissioner of economic development and the Freeborn County United Way director. All have campaigned aggressively for the city’s top office, which is being vacated by Bob Haukoos after one term.

Mark Anderson, an attorney who got 48 percent of the vote in the 2000 election, is making his second try for the office. He has focused on education, housing and infrastructure like roads and utilities as key components of economic development. He has been a voice of caution about lakes projects and the proposed city-wide sales tax, saying taxpayers have limited resources to share with the county, school district and city.

Jean Eaton’s campaign has centered on what she calls &uot;can-do spirit,&uot; and she’s pointed to a long resume to back it up. The current United Way director is a former Riverland Community College Dean and Convention and Visitors Bureau director who has helped lead the way on the Blazing Star Trail, Pelican Breeze cruise boat and dozens of other projects.

George Marin, a current council member and a pastor at Grace Christian Church, has emphasized positive leadership and better communication between city hall and the public. Aggressive pursuit of new industry and regular press conferences to update citizens on city business have been two planks of his platform.

Donald Mathison, who served on the city council from 1991 to 2000, has said well-paying jobs are a key to the city’s future and that the city does a good job of using its available resources to encourage economic development.

Tony Trow, a business owner and former assistant commissioner of economic development for the state, has said he would collect public input to help craft a five-year plan for the community. He says quality-of-life improvements, like lake cleanup and downtown improvements, would set Albert Lea apart from other cities and help grow the economy.

Freeborn County sheriff:

The two top vote-getters in this three-way race will go before voters in November and will become the first new sheriff elected in Freeborn County in decades. All three have extensive law-enforcement experience in the county.

Phil Bartusek, a lieutenant for the Albert Lea Police Department, has focused on the ideas of building partnerships with other law-enforcement agencies and working to curb underage access to tobacco and alcohol.

Mark Harig, a former sheriff’s office supervisor/investigator, spent years working with the regional drug task force, and said because most crimes derive from drug activity, he would put extra emphasis on stopping illegal drugs if elected.

Bob Kindler, who is second-in-command under current Sheriff Don Nolander, has focused on his hands-on experience with sheriff’s department operations and has Nolander’s endorsement.

Albert Lea City Council:

In Ward Two, which includes roughly the area directly south of Fountain Lake, north of Main Street, east of Hwy. 13 and west of Broadway Avenue, three candidates are vying for the city council seat now held by David McPherson.

Randy Erdman, who is president of Destination: Albert Lea, has brought that organization’s focus on the lakes and downtown into the city council race. He has said the city council must take a more active leadership role.

Mike Kelly is a longtime lakes activist who also ran for the council seat in 1998. He has stressed progressive ideals like community empowerment and says lake cleanup should focus on ecological needs before economic ones.

McPherson, a council veteran, has defended the city’s record on economic development and says the city’s role in projects like downtown development must be limited to appropriate functions like infrastructure work.

In Ward Four, two challengers face incumbent Ron Sorenson, who is going for his fifth term on the council. The ward covers roughly the area east of Bridge Avenue north of Hawthorne Street, and both east and west of Bridge south of Hawthorne to the edge of downtown.

Roger Bok is a perennial candidate who has been an outspoken fixture at public meetings for years who says he wants a more accountable city.

Business owner Jeff Fjelstad said the city must be more progressive and has criticized the slow pace of projects like the Farmland plant demolition and the new Wal-Mart Supercenter that is planned near I-35 on the city’s east end.

Longtime councilman Sorensen, one of the council’s most vocal members, has rebuffed questions about the city’s direction, saying economic development leads have been followed up aggressively and that the city handled the Farmland situation as well as it could.

Independence Party state senate candidate

Two Austin residents are vying for the chance to be on the November ballot against incumbent Republican Grace Schwab of Albert Lea and Democrat Dan Sparks of Austin.

Terry Kelley, an ex-TV news anchor and producer and former DFL candidate, has said the other major parties are too extreme and that the Democrats and Republicans have failed to balance the state’s budget responsibly or adequately fund education.

Jennifer Ney, a recent transplant from Colorado, has proposed harsher penalties for child abuse and more restrictions on alcohol. She has made headlines because of visits from Secret Service agents, who have kept tabs on her since she was arrested in 2000 during an Iowa campaign stop by then-candidate George W. Bush. Ney says she was yelling at Bush because he didn’t call her, as she says he promised to do.

Primary FYI

What is the point of a primary election?

The primary election chooses which candidates will appear on the ballot for the general election in November, when officeholders are elected.

When can I vote?

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Where do I vote?

Each city ward and county township has a designated polling place. In Albert Lea, the polling places include Brookside Education Center for Ward One; First Baptist Church for Ward Two; United Methodist Church for Ward Three; Grace Lutheran Church for Ward Four; City Hall for Ward Five; and Halverson School for Ward Six.

How do I know which ward I’m in?

A map of the wards is available in the city offices or online at

How do I register to vote?

If you’re not already registered, you may do so on Election Day at your polling place. You will need to prove you live in that ward by providing a state-issued I.D. or another form of identification along with a qualifying utility bill to prove your address.

Who can vote in the primary?

Any U.S. citizen age 18 or older who has been a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days by Election Day, unless voting privileges have been taken away because of felony convictions or mental incapacity.

Which party’s candidates can I vote for?

For local elections, like mayor or sheriff, there are no party affiliations. For state elections, like state senator or governor, you must choose one political party and you are only allowed to vote for that party’s candidates.