- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

HANKINSON, N.D. (AP) - Incumbent Joe O’Meara did something few candidates seeking election do - he campaigned for his competitor days before the June 10 election to ensure the community voted by write-in for Loren Hovel.

O’Meara found out days before the city election that his longtime friend Loren Hovel was conducting a write-in campaign to be the mayor of Hankinson, so O’Meara sat down with Hovel for about three hours one Saturday before the election to see if he was serious about becoming the mayor. He then spent a good portion of his weekend canvassing the community to let voters know to write in Hovel’s name.

Having the full support of the incumbent candidate also didn’t surprise Hovel. He said he looks at O’Meara’s support as a “passing of the torch.” He said there is no animosity between the two, who had served on the council together when Hovel was elected to two terms as an alderman.

O’Meara went to the Hankinson Community Center during Polka Fest, drove around and talked to everyone he saw outside. His daughter, Emily, even posted a personal note on her Facebook page that urged voters to cast a write-in vote for Hovel, at O’Meara’s urging. He sent texts, emails and went door-to-door to campaign for Hovel.

“My heart just wasn’t in it for another four-year term,” O’Meara told the Wahpeton Daily News (http://bit.ly/SWzBTZ ). But he was the only person who filed his candidacy for Hankinson Mayor in the city election. He actually waited until just about the last day to file, hoping someone else would step up and seek the four-year position. No one stepped forward, so O’Meara didn’t have much of a choice since he didn’t want to leave that slot open on the election ballot. He said the city is working on too many different things to leave that position open to chance. O’Meara has served 16 years as mayor here.

“If you think the hardest thing to do is to get somebody to vote for you, well, it’s tougher to get someone not to vote for you,” O’Meara said, but he believed Hovel was the best candidate for this job.

Hankinson voters agreed Tuesday. Unofficially, there were 256 write-in votes cast, or 90.46 percent of the overall vote in favor of a write-in candidate. In comparison, 27 votes were cast for O’Meara. The city will meet Monday to canvass votes. Official results will be available after this meeting. Hovel said he does plan on accepting the position.

O’Meara’s goal was to have 25 or fewer votes Tuesday. He joked he had only three days to undo his candidacy, and shift support from himself to Hovel. O’Meara said it is very important to him the community fully supports Hovel as he takes over the city’s helm.

“I wanted the community to be behind him with as much support as possible. That support will diminish as they start making decisions,” he added.

Hovel considers himself a middle-of-the road person. He said he looks at issues from both sides and goes in without a preconceived agenda. He said O’Meara’s 16 years on the council were ones of growth, and he said he wants to continue moving the city in a positive direction.

O’Meara had actually approached Hovel earlier to ask him if he would be willing to seek the mayor position. Then, Hovel wasn’t ready.

“I was friends with Joe and didn’t want to run against him,” Hovel said. But he had so many different people approach him about seeking the position, they changed his mind. This turn around wasn’t in time for him to officially file his candidacy, so Hovel carried on a quieter write-in campaign.

“I am not a stranger to city government. I was on the council prior, so I know what to expect. But it takes a while to take that leap of faith from council to mayor. I had to be comfortable with it myself before I could seek election,” Hovel said.

“Loren is a good man. He should have been mayor four years ago, but nobody picked up a ballot then either. Plus, he doesn’t have a business to lose,” O’Meara said.

Newcomers will be sworn into office at the June 24 council meeting. City voters in Hankinson voted out each incumbent seeking re-election, from mayor to alderman. Incumbent Greg Paulson and Jim Mikkelson were not re-elected to the council. This wasn’t all that surprising to Hovel, who said city residents were looking for a change. “I think you’ll see more of a council as a whole making decisions now. I can see the community as a whole” felt it was time to enact change, he said.

O’Meara was surprised at some of the election results. He said he didn’t know the community wanted such sweeping change since often no one attended council meetings unless they had an issue to bring forth. “Nobody really showed up to provide any input. That’s where it has to happen,” he said.

The council’s top priority has always been to benefit the city, O’Meara said. “All those years, we always tried to do what benefited everybody. How can you not vote for something when it benefits everyone?” he asked.

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Information from: Wahpeton Daily News, http://www.wahpetondailynews.com

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