- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The man who has become somewhat of a Fargo folk hero for leading the city through numerous flood fights expected his quest for a third straight term as mayor to be about margin of victory. Then Dennis Walaker’s longtime ally on the city commission handed him a campaign.

The 73-year-old Walaker is being challenged by 60-year-old Brad Wimmer, a jewelry store owner who has recruited some of the city’s biggest names to raise money and promote his candidacy. After winning with more than 90 percent of the vote four years ago, Walaker has suddenly found himself mailing out letters to supporters and outlining his accomplishments to dispute Wimmer’s notion that the mayor’s resume has very little beyond flood fame.

“He says I am strictly about flood protection,” Walaker said, looking through three pages of endeavors. “Well, I sat down and wrote some stuff here.”

Walaker in December announced his plans to run for a third term and said he wasn’t going to buy ads or put up billboards. He said he was surprised by what he called Wimmer’s 11th-hour announcement to join the race last month because he believed Wimmer and fellow city commission member Tim Mahoney had decided to “fight it out” for mayor in 2018.

“I had meetings with both Brad and Tim and both agreed not to pursue it this year. So I thought it was done,” Walaker said.

Wimmer said he never ruled out the possibility of running for mayor in his discussions with Walaker and eventually decided the timing was right.

“I just think it’s time for a fresh change,” Wimmer said. “Mayor Walaker was good when we were in the middle of our flood issues. But we’re not in our flood issues anymore. We’ve to get past that.”

Walaker said he’s confused by Wimmer’s call for transformation in a city that is thriving.

“He says it’s time for a change. Where does that come from? I have no idea,” Walaker said. “I mean, when things are as good as they are in our community. We’ve made so many inroads in so many areas, and so forth.”

Walaker was first elected in 2006 when he made flood protection his platform and earned 34 percent of the vote against five challengers. Dave Piepkorn, a city commissioner at the time, said Walaker “basically spent nothing and won.” He was a shoo-in in 2010 after helping the city survive a record-setting flood in 2009 and making a Red River diversion project his priority.

Dennis and I are good friends and I think our politics are similar,” Wimmer said. “I try to be as non-partisan as I can. I think we both come in with no agenda politically.”

Walaker’s tailor-made list of accomplishments include flood protection, sanitary sewer rehabilitation, water main replacement, litter control, lower taxes, revitalization of downtown, and his relationships with the state’s political leaders. Wimmer’s campaign website touts long-term diversion and inner city flood control, strong strategic economic growth, and what he calls “Fargo Fit,” which combines fiscal responsibility and community health and wellness initiatives.

Fargo’s a hot city right now. We’re doing very well,” Wimmer said. “We just want to bring it up a notch and do a little better.”

Walaker said he believes the Wimmer campaign will outspend him 10-1, with help from his election committee that includes former North Dakota National Guard commander Gen. Mike Haugen, former North Dakota State University basketball coach and athletic director Erv Inniger and state Sen. Tony Grindberg.

“He’s got a lot of people backing him that are significant, to say the least, in this community,” Walaker said. “I don’t know what their motivation is.”

Either way, the mayor said he’s not losing any sleep over the race, which will be decided on June 10.

“I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had a great career,” Walaker said. “I will go out of here peacefully.”

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