Kautz re-elected mayor

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz followed the results at an election-night party with her supporters at Mediterranean Cruise Cafe. Photo by Rick Orndorf

Sherry, Nguyen win City Council seats

Longtime Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz won her election rematch with Jerry Willenburg Tuesday, expanding her margin of victory from four years ago.

Kautz won 54 percent of the vote in 2008, the closest race since her first election in 1994.

On Tuesday she won 57 percent of the vote in an election that also returned one-term incumbent Mary Sherry to the City Council and ushered in a council newcomer, Suzanne Nguyen.

An anonymous mailing attacking on Kautz, 65, in the week before the election (see related story) didn’t derail her re-election to a seventh term as mayor.

The result “says to me that we have a very, very smart electorate in Burnsville,” said Kautz, who won 16,600 votes to Willenburg’s 12,379. “We have intelligent people who evaluate your performance and your deliverables, and they look at the results, and that’s what they make their decisions from, rather than looking at political ideology or likes and dislikes.”

Willenburg, 56, who twice ran for City Council and once for District 191 School Board before his strong showing in the 2008 mayoral race, said he’s unlikely to run for mayor again.

“I think it’s important that people have a choice,” said Willenburg, whose 2008 bid was supported by Charlie Crichton, the late council member, fiscal hawk and foe of both the Heart of the City redevelopment and the $20 million Performing Arts Center. “I think when there is a viable candidate, it holds the incumbent to task. And I think I’ve done that. I think it’s time for somebody else to step up, and I’ll support them.”

He points to vacancies in the mixed-use Heart of the City and contends that it’s not a “failure” but it “isn’t working, and it needs to be addressed.”

The Performing Arts Center is an “old issue, but it’s still an issue,” Willenburg said.

It costs the city about $1.7 million a year, he said:
“That’s a lot for a community our size.”

Kautz acknowledged there’s been a core of dissent in Burnsville that dates back to opposition to a riverfront amphitheater proposal the council approved in 2000. The project faced mass opposition in Bloomington and Burnsville and a Court of Appeals setback, and was never built.

The 2008 election was infused with dissent over the Kautz-championed Performing Arts Center, which had been approved but had yet to be built.

“And yet there are people who want leadership with vision, leaders that are optimistic and leaders that will make things happen,” Kautz said. “There is a Bible verse that says where there is no vision, the people perish. You must have a vision and good strategic direction.”

Sherry, the lone incumbent in the four-way race for two council seats, was the top vote-getter with 32.3 percent of the vote.

She said she has worked to provide a “balance point” on the council among competing factions.

Replacing top management at City Hall will be a key priority for the next council, she said. City Manager Craig Ebeling is expected to retire sometime in the first half of 2013.

“As a council member who’s served four years, it’s my hope that the culture that exists in the city staff at City Hall continues,” said Sherry, 72. “I am very impressed with the brainpower, from the very top all the way down to the people who patch the streets. They’re smart people, and they take initiative and they take pride in their work.”

Nguyen got 23.1 percent of the vote, narrowly outpolling ex-Council Member Steve Cherney, who got 22.3 percent.

“I come to the table without a personal agenda, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone to continue to make the city the best it can be,” said Nguyen, 50.

Kautz, outgoing Council Member Dan Gustafson and Dakota County Commissioner Liz Workman of Burnsville supported her campaign, Nguyen said.

A strong backer of the Performing Arts Center, Nguyen said she hopes for “some creative ways that we can get financial support and make it even better than it is.”

Bruce Johnson received 21.9 percent of the vote.