by CHRIS ROGERS and
Several new challengers and one hesitant incumbent entered local election races as the candidate filing periods for Winona Area Public Schools, the Winona City Council, and Winona County Board wrapped up yesterday. Former Cotter Schools Principal Oscar Uribe Mardones will challenge incumbent School Board member Steve Schild. Former state legislator and Saint Mary’s University (SMU) Dean Mike Charron will compete with Marie Kovecsi as she seeks re-election to the County Board. In the final days of the filing period, incumbent School Board member Ben Baratto decided he will seek re-election and a slew of newcomers filed for election, as well.
Winona County Board
Marie Kovecsi has been a champion for stronger environmental protections and funding for social services and criminal justice reform programs since she defeated longtime County Board member Wayne Valentine in 2014 in a campaign that seemed to hinge on Valentine’s support for the county’s one frac sand mine and Kovecsi’s opposition to it. She has been an outspoken supporter of pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements across government lines, and cast deciding votes on the County Board for county’s frac sand mining ban and its half-cent sales tax for road repair.
Mike Charron served as a Republic state legislator in 2005-2006 while living Woodbury, Minn. He has served on the Minnesota State Arts Board since 2008, and currently works as the Dean of Arts and Humanities at SMU in Winona. Charron said he decided to run because he believes the County Board needs better listeners and less divisive partisanship. “Why can’t we come to consensus? Why can’t we compromise?” he asked. “At the County Board, it seemed like people weren’t listening to each other, and I think the last few years it’s gotten worse,” Charron added.
Charron and Kovecsi are competing for Winona County’s second district including far western Winona and most of Goodview.
In eastern Winona, Paul Double and Chris Meyer will face off in a race for the county’s first district. Double is a businessman and former Winona City Council member who voted against increased frac sand regulations and said he wants to help the county navigate upcoming negotiations with the city over downtown propties. Meyer is a Winona County Planning Commission member who voted for the frac sand ban and said she wants to support sustainable economic development in the county.
In the race to represent southern and central Winona County, from Utica to Dresbach, incumbent Marcia Ward faces two challengers: Lewiston City Council member Bryce Lange and Wilson Township resident Lynn Carlson. Ward voted against the frac sand ban and has been the board’s most outspoken voice against property tax increases. Lange said he supports the frac sand ban and would try to balance keeping taxes down with investing in necessary infrastructure and programs. Carlson is skeptical of Minnesota Sands’ frac sand mining proposals and said, “If we want to keep our society civilized it does require an investment into public works.”
Winona Area Public Schools Board
Oscar Uribe Mardones has thrown his hat into the ring for the District One position, challenging incumbent Steve Schild for his seat. “I want to serve the community,” he said of why he’d like to join the board, adding that he has two children in the school system along with experience as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, and that he is working to attain his superintendent’s certificate. Noting that the district has a lot of work ahead regarding strategic planning and community engagement, Mardones said that the district could utilize social media to help engage younger community members in the issues faced by WAPS. “I think the school [district] needs to control the message, and allow outside sources to tell the story of the great things that are happening in the school district,” he said. He added he has a lot of respect for the work of incumbent board member Steve Schild, but Mardones said he offers a strong connection to the community of younger families with children who are still attending WAPS’ schools. Mardones said he felt the district’s AVID and SLIP programs, in particular, are excellent, and that he would seek the advice about any programming changes that need to be made from administrators working in the schools, and do his best to help them achieve their goals.
Late on Tuesday, Ted Hazelton also filed to run in District One. “It’s the state of disrepair the district is in. We need to rebuild trust,” he stated.
“It really weighed heavily on my mind,” incumbent School Board member Ben Baratto said of the hard choices School Board members will face in the next year and his decision to seek re-election. “If it’s true we have to cut another $1 million, there’s no more schools to close. I honestly don’t know where [we’re going to find it.]” Baratto was undecided until just a few hours before the filing period deadline. He said that people urged him to run again, and he thought, “I just want to do my best to try to protect programs as much as I can the next time around.”
Baratto and newcomers Kenneth Kersting, John “J.R.” Larkie, and Jim Schul are all running for two at-large seats on the School Board. Late yesterday, Nancy Denzer, Luke Sims, and Karl Sonneman all filed to run for the two at-large seats, as well.
Larkie said he was concerned that the closure of elementary schools has left WAPS’ remaining schools overcrowded and that the district does not have a long-term plan. “I think the number-one thing that we have to do is build trust within the school and the community to make sure that the community and the school district have open lines of communication,” Schul stated. Kersting said, “I think we need to stop the bleeding and fix the trust, get the community to trust the School Board again.”
Second District incumbent Karen Coleman is not seeking re-election. As the Winona Post went to press on Tuesday, Nancy Denzer and Gerald Portman filed to run for her seat.
Winona City Council
Longtime Second Ward (west-central Winona) City Council Gerry Krage filed for re-election this week. He is challenged by Eileen Moeller, who sits on the city’s Fine Arts Commission. “One thing I do want to work on addressing is the transportation needs for people in the community, whether that’s accessing the bus routes or pedestrian paths and bike routes … I think everyone in this city is affected by the resources available,” Moeller said. Krage stated that he wants to help keep the city government from being divided by national politics. “It’s not just by chance that Winona has stayed out of that. It’s going to take some experience and some calm, grey-haired leadership over the next few years to keep us out of that,” he stated.
Council members George Borzyskowski and Michelle Alexander will run unopposed.