Union official seeks Council seat, ties questioned

While union support hasn’t necessarily meant victory at Duluth’s polls lately, local labor unions have helped boost the campaign war chests of Sharla Gardner and Laurie Johnson.

Since the end of August, Johnson, who is running to retain her 1st District Council seat, has collected $2,350. Sharla Gardner, running in the 3rd District to replace outgoing Councilor Russ Stewart, collected $4,694 in that period, at least $700 of which came from area unions.

Both candidates say they accept that a portion of their support comes from area unions because unions comprise hard-working Duluthians, and that’s who they want to represent. “Many of the people who are in unions are in my district,” said Johnson, who is a staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 96.

Johnson said that being in a union and getting union support hasn’t influenced her past votes on the council, and it won’t in the future. Johnson has raised a total of $12,948, at least $2,900 of which came from unions. She said she felt she had to ramp up her fundraising after the Aug. 31 filing. “After the last filing, my opponent had raised twice as much as me,” she said. “Obviously he’s got bigger spenders.”

Johnson’s opponent, Todd Fedora, has raised $24,191. Fedora said he is proud to say he hasn’t received any money from unions. “I don’t want any allegiances tugging me one way or the other,” Fedora said. “The amount and magnitude of the special-interest monies my opponent is earning concerns me,” he said.

Though Gardner, who is competing against Heather Rand, also said she won’t be influenced by unions, she did promise to resign from the executive board of AFSCME Local 66 if elected.

“I do feel fine taking the union donations and the Progressive Action donations. I believe very strongly in labor and working people,” Gardner said.

And though they may not be unions, everyone comes from somewhere and therefore has potential conflicts of interest, Gardner said, pointing out that Fedora works for a bank and that Rand works for the state of Minnesota.

Gardner has raised a total of $11,038, while Rand has raised $8,548.

In the 5th District, incumbent Russ Stover has raised $2,930, while challenger Jay Fosle has taken in $3,849.

In the four-person race for two At Large City Council seats, some candidates are beginning to count pennies as the time before Election Day dwindles.

At Large candidates Tony Cuneo and Jeff Anderson each have raised more than $20,000 this year, far more than their opponents. But Cuneo has spent nearly all of his money.

Incumbent Tim Little has raised $3,313 and has spent that much, while candidate Becky Hall has raised $2,325. Hall, however, had not filed her campaign expense report for September and October by Friday, as required by state law.

Cuneo’s figures are his estimates because he also didn’t file by Friday. He said the person responsible for filing the document had a family emergency that kept her out of town.


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