New Maplewood mayor, elected councilors hope for positive future

Kaitlyn Roby
Review staff

Nora Slawik

Kathy Juenemann

Marylee Abrams

Nora Slawik is Maplewood’s next mayor, beating former leader Diana Longrie by an overwhelming margin in Tuesday's election.

The mayoral and council races became three against three after the primary, which left two mayoral candidates and four council candidates decidedly on different sides of the fence.

Slawik, incumbent Kathy Juenemann and newcomer Marylee Abrams, who won election,  touted maintaining a relatively controversy-free regime, while pointing to Longrie, incumbent  Cave and challenger Margaret Behrens as a group whose election would risk returning Maplewood to a chaotic period in the city's history.

During Longrie’s time in office, 2006-09, with Cave also on the council, many upper-level city employees resigned and some were let go and sued the city. She hired a city manager who some felt had questionable qualifications, which was followed by more staffers who were fired or left, and the city’s insurance rates took a hit. At one point, the League of Minnesota Cities' Insurance Trust threatened to cancel the city's insurance.

In the intervening years, with Mayor Will Rossbach, the city went through a contentious process to organize trash hauling but didn't experience similar high-profile staffing and insurance issues.

For their part, Longrie, Cave and Behrens insisted they were the candidates who were really listening to the electorate, blaming Juenemann and Rossbach for a breakdown of "civility" at city council meetings and deploring the organized trash hauling and consolidation of fire services into fewer stations.

The mayor race

Slawik says the vote tells her residents don't want to return to the unrest of Longrie's tenure.

“People were saying with their vote that they wanted a new vision for Maplewood and to go with a positive leader who can move the city forward. They clearly said they’re not interested in going backward,” Slawik said. “I feel humbled and honored that the people of Maplewood have given me a decisive win.”

About 67 percent of votes went to Slawik. Longrie, 55, a local attorney, took nearly one-third of the votes, according to unofficial results.

Longrie pointed to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s backing as the reason for Slawik’s win.

“My campaign team is very disappointed,” Longrie said. “However, we know that it’s always going to be an uphill battle when the other folks that you’re running against have the money backing them and the machinery backing them.”

Longrie said that the days are gone where an ordinary citizen can be elected as Maplewood’s mayor.

“If you're not affiliated with an established organization or have deep pockets, you really don’t have much of a chance to get elected, even if you’re fully qualified and if your platform is in your best interest of the community,” she said.

Longrie said she hopes Slawik will hear from citizens at monthly mayor’s forums and prior to council votes.

Slawik said she will have her own style in seeking public input, which will be informed by her experience as a state representative in 1997-98 and 2001-12. She represented the southern leg of Maplewood and city of Oakdale and ran as a DFLer.

She said she plans to be out in the community, talking to constituents and remaining accessible in-person and online through social media and email.

She said she doesn't plan to hold monthly forums, but will be continuously reaching out to residents.

Slawik, 50, is a director of education at a nonprofit autism organization and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota. 

She said she will set a standard of collaboration and respect.  She plans to focus on management of the city budget and public safety.

Slawik said she wants to ensure all residents have equal access to fire, police and emergency services.

“People are concerned about that with the closing of the two fire stations,” she said.

Slawik, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said she’s looking forward to a long-term plan for Maplewood’s parks.

Mayor Will Rossbach did not seek a second term as mayor.

Newcomer, long-time councilor win spots

Political neophyte Marylee Abrams garnered about 28 percent of the vote, ousting incumbent Rebecca Cave. Kathy Juenemann retained her spot on the council with about 27 percent, according to unofficial results, allowing her to serve her fourth -- and, she says, final -- term.

Challenger Margaret Behrens came in fourth in the council race.

Behrens said political endorsements were behind the election results, saying the three winning candidates make up the “Rossbach alliance.”

“It wasn’t Diana and Rebecca and I who lost, it was the citizens and taxpayers of Maplewood who lost, because now they're stuck with this,” Behrens said. “They just want to control people. They need to learn how to serve people. I hope they learn how.”

Behrens thanked the community for its support and said she will continue her public service as a member of the Ramsey Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

The women filling the two council spots interpreted the results much like Slawik's take.

“I am really excited about working hard for the city of Maplewood for our citizens and moving our city forward in a real positive path,” said Abrams, a labor and employment attorney. “I’ve seen what has happened in the past in Maplewood when we went through a period of chaos. I was committed to not let that happen again.”

Juenemann said she is excited to be able to see several projects come to fruition, including the expansion of the police department, the east metro public safety training facility and a park survey.

She thanked the voters for their support and said she plans to call it quits after this term.

“It's astounding for people to trust me to do this for 16 years,” she said. “At some point, you need new ideas and new people ... I am just thrilled to be doing it one more time.”

Rebecca Cave did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday.

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