Defiant Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson says he will not resign

Two people stand by a podium.
Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson, with his wife Rebecca, speaking at a news conference in the Two Harbors city council chambers on June 1.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Calling himself a “visionary leader” who has done more for his community “in the past five and a half years than the previous 20,” embattled Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson said Wednesday he would not resign over multiple allegations of conflict of interest.

“The real question today is not about Mayor Chris Swanson, did he do things right or wrong?” he said, with his wife, Rebecca by his side. “The real question is, does Two Harbors want to continue to move forward and get things done? Or do they want to stop and go backwards?”

Swanson took credit for a number of achievements in recent years, including new streets and sidewalks, a downtown revival and state funding for a wastewater treatment plant.

Swanson’s announcement sets the stage for a recall election, likely in August, after petitioners gathered more than 500 valid voter signatures to put Swanson’s fate on the ballot.

The Two Harbors City Council then voted 6-1 last week to move ahead with the recall vote. Only Swanson voted against it.

Swanson first came under fire in January when the Duluth News Tribune reported on his involvement in a proposal to build an underwater hotel in Lake Superior, which included his appearance on a podcast with an anonymous self-described billionaire dubbed “Mr. O.”

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Since then there have been several additional accusations that Swanson blurred the lines between his role as mayor and his family’s private business pursuits.

Two Harbors city attorney Tim Costley then issued a memorandum of opinion in which he wrote that Swanson repeatedly used his official position as mayor “for personal benefit or business interests.”

A photo of a woman on a car window
A poster on a car outside Two Harbors City Hall urges Mayor Chris Swanson to resign or be recalled by voters.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

For his part, Swanson reiterated Wednesday that he has never been found guilty of doing anything illegal.

“Have I made some errors and mistakes as a mayor? Yes, I have. I am human. But the bottom line is this. I have done nothing that even closely reaches the level of malfeasance,” he said.

After speaking for eight minutes, Swanson quickly left the news conference without answering questions from reporters.

Todd Ronning, chair of the Resign and Recall Committee formed to try to oust Swenson, said he was disappointed the mayor didn’t resign.

He said the negative publicity surrounding the mayor has “brought a lot of shame and a lot of pain and a lot of real harm to our community.”

Ronning agreed that a lot of great things are happening in Two Harbors. But he said those accomplishments would have been achieved with or without Swanson.

“For the sake of our community and our community’s reputation, we need more ethical conduct of our elected officials,” Ronning added. “At the end of the day, they serve for the will of the people.”