Election 2023

Reinert easily wins Duluth mayoral contest over two-term incumbent Larson

A man waves at a podium
Duluth Mayor-elect Roger Reinert speaks to supporters Tuesday night at Clyde Iron Works after incumbent Mayor Emily Larson conceded the race.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Updated: 8:05 a.m.

Roger Reinert will be the next mayor of Duluth after resoundingly defeating two-term incumbent Emily Larson in an election where voters issued a convincing call for change. 

Reinert, 53, secured 60 percent of the vote compared to 40 percent for Larson. A total of 29,295 votes were cast.

A former Duluth City Council member, state legislator and recently interim director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Reinert campaigned on a need for new leadership in the city while strengthening core services.

A man speaks into a mic
Duluth Mayor-elect Roger Reinert speaks to supporters after his opponent Mayor Emily Larson conceded the mayoral race to him Tuesday night.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

At his victory party at Clyde Iron Works in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, Reinert said he is ready to move forward.

"I just want to see the city do city things again, and we will do city things again,” he said. “That is what local government is about."

He said after a hard-fought campaign, it is time for the city to come back together.

"We need to have a smooth transition. We watch what happens at the state and too often the national level. That's not what we want to do in our community. We want to move forward from a challenging election, and bring our community back together. Whether you supported me, or whether you didn't, I am still a mayor for this entire community."

At her gathering nearby at Bent Paddle Brewing, Larson admitted the loss hurt but she thanked her supporters, and congratulated Reinert.

A woman talks at a mic
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson speaks to supporters Tuesday night at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. in Duluth. Larson was conceding to opponent Roger Reinert.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

“I sincerely say I wish him well. This is a very difficult job. We want him to succeed,” Larson said.

She said the city is in good shape. “Duluth has not ever been stronger economically than we are now.” She also thanked city of Duluth staff. “We expect everything and you give more,” she said.

Voter dissatisfaction

While Larson easily won her previous two mayoral contests, on Tuesday several voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the incumbent.

Britta Bloomquist, a 35-year old graduate student in social work, said she used to be a huge supporter of Larson. 

But she’s disappointed in how Duluth has dealt with a growing homelessness issue. 

“I feel like it's becoming a very expensive place to live. It feels like we're kind of becoming a little Twin Cities metro area. Very expensive to live, hard to find jobs. And so we're probably turning a lot of young people away, which we need.”

Joe Leddy, a semitrailer truck driver, echoed many voters when he said Duluth needed a change. “I think she's served long enough, and we need a fresh face.”

Leddy also appreciated that during debates Reinert didn’t attack Larson, who challenged Reinert’s record as a city councilor and state legislator. 

Carmen Garcia, speaking outside a polling place at a Catholic church on the far eastern side of Duluth, said she supported Reinert because she feels he will work with both parties. 

Garcia, 52, who works for a health care insurance company, echoed many of the core themes that Reinert campaigned on, including concerns about rising property taxes, and how the alley behind her home wasn’t plowed after snowstorms, she said. 

A side profile of a man
Duluth Mayor-elect Roger Reinert speaks to the media after his opponent, Mayor Emily Larson, conceded the mayoral race to him Tuesday night.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

She also disagreed with Larson’s focus on climate change. Larson’s administration cut greenhouse gas emissions substantially during the past eight years, created a sustainability office, and invested in efforts to improve climate resiliency, including buttressing the Lakewalk to prevent damage from large storms. 

“I think climate change shouldn't be an issue with our city. I think that is more on the national level. I think we should be more concerned of all the citizens of our area.” 

But Larson’s environmental focus appealed to Kaelyn Williams, a 29-year old Montessori school teacher.  

“I appreciate that she focuses on environmental issues,” Williams said. “That's pretty important to me, and I I would like to see more of that within the city of Duluth.”

During the campaign Larson emphasized accomplishments on housing and infrastructure, including the addition of 1,700 housing units, and a drastic increase in street repair, funded by a sales tax increase she helped push through. 

Erin Trisko, a nurse for St. Luke’s, said she felt that Larson worked on issues that mattered to her, including housing and streets. 

“She works on housing, she works on health care. I'm a nurse with the Minnesota Nurses Association. And she showed up when we were striking and supported us. Our roads around here are a lot better. Every year, we get a little bit better.”

Nearly $500,000 flowed into the race, a substantial sum for a city of 86,000 residents.

A woman takes a selfie with a man
Duluth mayoral candidate Roger Reinert poses for a selfie with Amy Fink Tuesday at Clyde Iron Works in Duluth, the site of Reinert’s election party.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Reinert said he plans to request meetings with key city officials and said he will ask for transition space at City Hall.

He also said he hopes the large margin of victory will convince the Larson administration and City Council to invest millions of dollars in unspent pandemic relief funds in infrastructure, and also revisit the recent closure of one of two city-owned golf courses.

But first, he plans to clean up more than 2,000 campaign yard signs scattered around town.

"And in a race like this, where it was hotly contested, it's important that we pat that away. And we go back to being friends and neighbors and Duluthian's and move forward. And one of the best ways to do that is to put the politics behind us."

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