By Harry Welty
Published May 27, 2004
Gunning for Fay
No one likes a goody-two-shoes. No one likes a whistle blower. No one likes
Joanne Fay. At least Joanne's colleagues on the St. Louis County Board don't
seem to like Joanne. Suddenly everyone is gunning for Commissioner Fay.
Because Joanne single-handedly killed the County Board's self-serving
redistricting plan, by taking it to the courts thus guaranteeing Duluth fair
representation, she finds herself facing two challengers in this Fall's
First out of the gate to challenge Fay was Laura Ness, Duluth City Councilor
Donny Ness's bride of one week. Laura Ness's bid to build a Ness dynasty seems
to be predicated on the idea that we need more women - check that - we need more
"younger" women in public office. Evidently the forty-something Fay
has been prematurely aged into irrelevance by her own grade school children and
those on the County Board.
The following day, Steve O'Neill, a folksy, bearded presence in many Politically
correct causes announced his intention to file against Fay. The many AFSCME
(public employee union) officials who surrounded Steve at his press conference
hint at the fissures within the DFL. This may be Fay's only hope.
Laura's husband, Donny, is Congressman Oberstar's Duluth factotum. As a city
councilor he has assiduously avoided taking unpopular stands, most recently on
the tempestuous issue of the Ten Commandments. Donny finessed this controversy
by nitpicking some demands of the ACLU. Officially Donny did not join the
council majority which voted to remove the monument from City property. Such a
vote could have been unhelpful for his wife's campaign.
Donny's valiant attempts to court young and old alike with his inoffensive
politics has not endeared him to the region's Greens who along with AFSCME have
commandeered the DFL. Look for a primary donnybrook.
It's tempting to speculate that Fay's embittered colleagues might have had a
hand in recruiting these eager challengers. If it hadn't been for Fay two county
board members might not be facing reelection this year half-way into what
otherwise would have been four year terms. Fay took them kicking and screaming
to court, along with their gerrymandered redistricting plan, and she won.
The losers have attempted to put the best face on their loss by insisting that
they really won. The Supreme Court let stand Fay's and Judge Hallenbeck's
redistricting plan but did not insist that St. Louis County reimburse Fay for
her legal costs. According to Fifth District Commissioner Peg Sweeney this was a
Not only was this small minded satisfaction it was hypocritical. Peg and the
other Commissioners made much of Joanne's greed in trying to stick county
taxpayers with her legal expenses. In reality, Peg and her partisans on the
Board used the County Attorney's office to defend the safe districts that they
had drawn up for themselves. It would be interesting to know how much this
losing legal diversion for the County Attorney cost. Alan Mitchell didn't seem
very enthusiastic about defending the County Commissioner's assault on the
"one man one vote" standard but they forced him to defend their
self-serving plan. They had no compunction about sticking the taxpayer with the
costs for their own self preservation.
I can only shake my head at the County Board's intransigence. Had they been less
preoccupied with guaranteeing their own reelections they would have saved the
taxpayers the costs of litigation. They also might have avoided an unexpected
mid-term election this year as well. Pity!
I can also only shake my head in wonder at Joanne Fay's tenacity and
self-sacrifice on behalf of Duluth's voters. She spent $22,000 of her own to
fight for an honest reapportionment. This is almost half her annual commissioner
salary. This fight was completely unnecessary for her own reelection since the
original plan barely changed her own district.
I have no difficulty imagining what I would have done with $22,000 because I'm
spending half that much on a thirty-year anniversary cruise of the Mediterranean
What does Joanne get for her sacrifice? She gets to fight all summer for her
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com
Ness wrote a response to my column