DULUTH, Minn. — Roger Reinert will become the city’s next mayor after defeating incumbent Emily Larson on Tuesday night.
The two longtime DFL members faced off in the toughest race for mayor since Don Ness ran against Charlie Bell in 2007.
Despite running against an incumbent, Reinert emerged as the political favorite in the race after a strong primary performance, receiving 60% of the vote, while Larson received 40% of the vote in the final but unofficial vote.
According to unofficial results released Tuesday, Larson managed to narrow that gap slightly in the general election, narrowing the lead as Reinert received just 60% of the vote to 40%.
As for the key to the race, Reinert said: “I think it was really a few things. That’s how we approached it, really making sure to get to the front lines and meet with people to have conversations that really shape the five big themes that we’ve just been talking about over and over again.
“And I think it was about staying the course, thinking positively, being forward-thinking and staying focused on the issues,” he said.
Larson did not respond to calls from the Duluth News Tribune Tuesday evening.
She issued a statement: “Duluth is better today because of the work we have done together over the last eight years.” Thank you to everyone who has joined me in this work, and to everyone who has participated in mine campaign to continue this progress. Together, 265 campaign volunteers knocked on 18,000 homes and called more than 8,000 others.
“Most importantly, I would like to thank residents throughout the community for their involvement in and with local government. Regardless of the outcome or election outcome, we live in a community where people have time to listen, learn, share, volunteer and vote,” Larson said.
The incumbent mayor received her party’s support, while Reinert decided not to seek it because local races do not have to be partisan contests.
This mayoral race will go down in history as Duluth’s most expensive election campaign ever. Expenses totaled over $466,000 through the end of October, and political action committees supporting both candidates donated significant sums of money to support each camp.
Some of these ads took a negative turn, criticizing Reinert for his achievements and labeling him “Risky Reinert.”
Reinert predicted that the attack ads would backfire.
“I think we’re a big, small town,” he said. “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve before and people have seen my service over time. If they don’t know me, they know someone who knows me. Since there were always negative campaigns, this put a lot of people off. And I think we’ve continued to signal that we don’t have to do that. We all say we want better, and we actually can.
“We confirmed that you can win without going negative, and I know Minnesota was watching,” Reinert said.
Reinert, 53, has a political career that dates back to 2004, when he was appointed to the Duluth City Council to fill a vacancy left by newly elected Mayor Herb Bergson. His colleagues elected him council chairman in 2006 and 2008.
In 2008 he successfully ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives. In 2010, Reinert was elected to the Minnesota Senate, where he served two terms. Reinert is a lawyer and commander in the US Navy Reserve.
Larson, 50, was seeking her third term as mayor of Duluth. Her political career began in 2011 when she emerged as the top vote-getter in a major Duluth City Council race. In 2015, she was elected mayor, succeeding Don Ness.
Larson handily won two previous mayoral elections, receiving 72% of the vote against his opponent Chuck Horton in 2015 and nearly 64% of the vote against David Nolle in 2019.
But Larson will not get a third term as mayor. She gave a concession speech to her opponent at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. just after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“This is a very difficult task and although we competed against each other and competed fiercely for our ideas, I really wish him well,” Larson said.
Reinert has pledged to bring a new leadership team to City Hall and said the people have spoken.
“The closing argument was very simple. If people believed we were moving in the right direction, they would vote for a third term. But if they had concerns and wanted to see something different, this was the first meaningful mayoral race in 20 years,” he said.