The three New Hope residents running for mayor have all served on the City Council: Jonathan London is a current council member, Kathi Hemken is the current mayor and Daniel Stauner served previously for two terms.
The candidates made it clear that despite this shared experience, they differ on the future of the city at the July 22 forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Crystal, New Hope, Eastern Plymouth and Robbinsdale. The forum was moderated by Kathleen Pederson, president of the league chapter.
At the forum, candidates were given four minutes to speak freely. Due to logistics concerns associated with the current pandemic, the typical question-and-answer session with a live audience didn’t occur.
Reasons for running
Stauner and London disagree with the current state of the city. Stauner said he was running to “restore the idea of public service to city hall,” because he felt that the New Hope city government wasn’t serving residents’ interests.
“The New Hope City Council has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t believe it is accountable to the citizens,” Stauner said.
Stauner extended his call for council turnover, recommending that the seat occupied by Andy Hoffe be given to a new person.
“This year, we have a unique opportunity to change the face of the city,” he said.
While London expressed enthusiasm for some council initiatives since his election in 2014, he said he was seeking the mayor’s seat to reverse “decline over the last two decades.” As a resident since 1976, he wants New Hope to return to what he believed was “the city in its prime.” He attributed much of the decline to the exit of several retail and commercial businesses and less enforcement of city code violations.
Hemken said she was proud of the council’s work in her 12 years as mayor and commended the work as a group effort including city staff and council members.
“We have to compromise to get things done, but boy, are we getting things done,” she said.
Hemken appealed to voters as the “leader that you know and trust.”
“With the uncertainties going on in the world today, it’s not a good time to change leadership,” she said. “My kids are grown, I’m retired. I have time to do this job.”
Policing was briefly mentioned by all three candidates.
Hemken said she has no intention of defunding the police. London said improvements could be made to the department and other areas of city government. He said he had campaigned against the growing police force despite a declining population when elected to the city council in 2014, and re-instated the requirement for the department to create an annual report.
Stauner did not address policing specifically, though he did highlight his experience preserving the West Metro Fire-Rescue District, as well as his time on the board of directors.
The city’s program to purchase and restore blighted homes was something that Hemken and London appeared to support. Hemken said the program was necessary to keep the city’s “housing stock up to date,” and she would continue to support it. London said the program was working to reduce the imbalance in the cost of a single-family home in the city compared to its neighbors. He disagreed with the continued focus on building affordable housing because New Hope already had a much higher percentage of affordable homes than its neighbors. London said despite success with the restoration program, there was still work to be done.
Fiscal responsibility was also a common topic. The city has bonded several large-scale projects, including the construction of a new city hall and police station, community pool and Civic Center Park renovation. The projects have resulted in higher-than-usual property tax increases.
London was critical of the council’s current spending practices and proposed a stop to additional future debt issuance, though not to a point where city infrastructure wasn’t maintained. He posited that money could be saved with better planning and improvement among leadership across various city departments. Specifically, he mentioned the community development, parks and recreation, public works and public safety departments.
“I’m confident we can continue to make improvements and be fiscally responsible while doing so,” London said.
Hemken said while updates to city services and infrastructure “costs money,” she said the spending had attracted new business to the area. She claimed that under her leadership, $220 million had been added to the local economy, which helped alleviate the growing tax burden.
“I’m proud of the stuff we’ve gotten done,” Hemken said.
Stauner did not discuss in detail his platform, citing the small amount of time he had to speak. He did recognize his experience on the council, including his actions to reform the budgeting process and to update city ordinances. He directed voters to danformayor.org to learn of his platform and to contact him with any questions.