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Zaleski: Commissioners have damaged the city of Fargo

The news about the upcoming Fargo City Commission election is mixed.

The good news is that Mayor Tim Mahoney is running for re-election, and former commissioner Mike Williams wants to return to the commission, having sat out the time required after he was term-limited.

The bad news? Commissioners Dave Piepkorn (likely will) and Tony Gehrig will seek re-election. Both have done damage to Fargo's image and to the city's efforts toward economic inclusiveness and social tolerance. Their positions on the commission have afforded them a bully pulpit to peddle nonsense and vitriol.

Piepkorn put the bully in bully pulpit, as in bullying people who expose his ignorance. A few years ago (in his first term), he verbally assaulted the city employee tasked with analyzing bicycle path extension plans; he growled the analyst should be fired. He misjudged the popularity of bicycling, and lost a re-election bid. He made a comeback a couple of years later, but it was obvious his learning curve was flat.

More destructive than his bike path idiocy was his war against immigrants and refugees. Stirring the worst instincts among some residents, Piepkorn claimed new Americans were a burden on the city—financially and with regard to crime. He demanded studies to prove his assertions.

Every study disproved them. Ramping up his rhetoric, he attacked the credibility of experts whose findings did not fit his toxic narrative. He ignored the police chief, who said the crime rate among newcomers was no different from the general population. He dismissed business people who said newcomers filled employment gaps in everything from retail to manufacturing. He didn't want to hear success stories about new Americans who had started small businesses in Fargo.

Gehrig, the malleable faux libertarian, would turn Fargo into a dreary place, bereft of the amenities that make it unique and attractive. His philistine view of "public art" is to remove the "public" component. If it had been his call, the beautiful, landmark Veterans Memorial Bridge would be a featureless, utilitarian slab; new City Hall would be a bleak concrete block bunker; downtown Fargo would be the empty-storefront urban catastrophe it had become before the brilliant application of private/public Renaissance Zone incentives.

Gehrig relishes his "Dr. No" status (he's often the lone "no" vote), not grasping that it's meant to be an insult. He does not relish being challenged with information that doesn't endorse his obtuseness. When confronted with logic and facts, he can slip from arrogant to irrational in a heartbeat.

No doubt, both gentlemen love their families and have loyal friends. Both can be amiable: Piepkorn with his Bison lore; Gehrig with a practiced, smooth and seemingly intelligent style. All very nice, but beside the point.

The election is about service to the city. It's about their comportment as commissioners, and the fact that their antics do the city no good. By honest and objective measures, they have qualified to get the boot in June.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (after Dec. 11) at (701) 241-5521.

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