Don Heinonen Leans on City Government Insights in Ward 5 Race – Bemidji Pioneer
BEMIDJI — Just over a year after coming up short against former Bemidji City Council member Nancy Erickson, Don Heinonen is preparing for another shot at Ward 5.
This week, the 57-year-old retail fleet manager submitted his candidacy for the Ward 5 open seat on the Bemidji City Council. A graduate of Northwest Technical College, Heinonen has resided in Bemidji for 38 years and has run for municipal office in several election cycles.
In 2014, Heinonen was beaten by Dave Larson, 2,512-1,077 for the At Large board seat. In 2016, Heinonen raced against Erickson and trailed 682-664. Heinonen made another bid for the At Large seat in 2018 but was beaten by the late Jim Thompson, 2,234-2,194.
In the 2020 race for Ward 5, Erickson won 797-637. It was his third straight win and his fifth overall. Erickson served on the board from 2000 to 2008 and was re-elected to the board in 2012.
On September 8, however, Erickson resigned from his position on the city council. In a letter, Erickson wrote, “the council is moving Bemidji in fundamental directions that I cannot support. I am no longer able to effectively represent our citizens with confidence.”
With Ward 5’s seat up for election again, Heinonen saw fit to stand for election again. If elected, Heinonen said his knowledge of the city’s current issues would allow him to work from day one.
“I feel like I have the expertise because I’ve been involved in municipal government business for nearly 20 years,” Heinonen said. “I’ve been to almost every council meeting for 14 years, I know what’s going on, all the ins and outs, and I’m by first name with almost every staff in the city.”
This is particularly important to Heinonen, as he said the ward needs a council member who knows the city’s issues from the start.
“We may not have a candidate until August,” Heinonen said. “It will then be almost a year without representation for Ward 5. So whoever fills that seat will need to have very good knowledge to be able to do anything with what is essentially a two-year term.”
If he succeeds in winning the Ward 5 seat, Heinonen said public safety would be a priority.
“I think the No. 1 priority we see in our community is public safety,” Heinonen said. “The number of violent crimes has really increased a lot. We have to try to find a way to reduce the activity that is taking place. It is only in certain neighborhoods at the moment, but it can spread, and we must catch before it does.”
Another area of concern for Heinonen is the city’s tax policy, with the candidate saying it’s too high.
“There is going to be an 8% increase in tax levies this year,” Heinonen said. “With the pandemic and everything else from the last year, we now have a lot of people on assistance and fixed incomes. I’m afraid people can’t afford their house anymore.”
The other candidates for the Ward 5 seat are Lynn Eaton, Bill Batchelder and Micaiah Graham. The deposit period for the Ward 5 race ends on December 14.