Looks like people in West Central Minnesota aren't buying into negative cracks about Willmar's downtown and its diverse atmosphere--and it's not just about rejecting anti-Muslim activist Bob Enos at the polls.
On November 19, the West Central Tribune's Shelby Lindrud reported in Council discusses value of investing in downtown Willmar:
Christianson questioned whether focusing on downtown was a good use of money at all, since in his opinion the average person in Willmar does not go downtown. Only specific people frequent the businesses downtown, Christianson said.
"I look at it as a political correct thing, and PC is down the drain for me," Christianson said.
Councilman Shawn Mueske and Mayor Marv Calvin completely disagreed with Christianson's comments.
"I frequent downtown, my colleagues frequent downtown. I'm not ready to give up on downtown," Mueske said.
"I shop frequently downtown. Downtown is a happening place," added Calvin.
Who are "those specific people"? Kristian Taketomo, a reader in New London, writes in a letter to the editor, No room for xenophobia about downtown Willmar:
I felt compelled to respond to the West Central Tribune article of Nov. 19 recapping the Nov. 15th meeting of the Willmar City Council and the vote on the Willmar Downtown Development group's funding request.
First, I'd like to applaud the council members who voted to fund the group. Downtown Development has clearly been diligent in seeking grants and donations before approaching the council, having secured millions in outside funding over the past 10 years. At the end of the day, $37,000 is a small price to pay for a thriving downtown that builds the tax base and that is attractive to residents and visitors.
Second, I'm disturbed by Councilman Ron Christianson's stated reasons for opposing the funding request. Christianson remarked that "only specific people frequent the businesses downtown" and that he "look(s) at it as a political correct thing, and PC is down the drain for (him)." What could he possibly mean, calling supporting downtown businesses "PC"? Given that many of the new businesses in Willmar have been opened by immigrants and transplants, you don't have to be a detective to suss out his true meaning here.
People of all colors and creeds eat, shop, and do business downtown. Immigrant-owned and -operated businesses benefit everyone. For example, the newly established Southwest Transportation drives people to and from medical appointments. If health care consumers are a niche market, that's news to me. Moreover, downtown's independent business owners have a vested interest in the success of downtown and greater Willmar. The same cannot be said for big-box stores or restaurant chains who pack up when their market shrinks or they outgrow their space.
Christianson's thinly-veiled xenophobia has no place in Willmar and will hobble the city's continued economic revitalization.
Best Buy closed its Willmar store on October 1, so Taketomo isn't talking abstractly about big box stores leaving the West Central Minnesota regional center.
Although more strongly worded, Taketomo's opinion echoes an earlier editorial by the Tribune, Election creates new era for Willmar City Council:
City of Willmar voters have spoken, calling for a new direction on their City Council by electing three new proactive members and re-electing a moderate councilman.
This was a strong statement for a new era for the City Council and the city of Willmar as a new majority will work together and proactively represent all the residents of our fine city. . . .
The 2016 election may well become a bellwether of our city's history as the three newly elected members will join the current forward-thinking members in 2017 resulting in a refreshing majority with a positive narrative and attitude about Willmar.
Kudos to council members Mueske, Audrey Nelsen, Andrew Plowman, Rick Fagerlie and Denis Anderson last week for setting the example and supporting the importance of continued investment in downtown Willmar. They have not given up on downtown Willmar and their support disavowed the personal agendas of the council's old anti-downtown faction.
A prime example of the importance of downtown was Saturday's Holidaze events and parade, which brought many people to downtown Willmar signaling the start of the holiday season, just a day after a major blizzard brought a white and frosty look to the city.
Willmar works best when we all work together. Another prime example is the turn of the century when all in the city worked together to meet critical priorities, such as building a new YMCA and other strategic projects. The city's many efforts, led by a forward-thinking City Council, was recognized with the All America City honor in 2005. It is time to return to this team approach for Willmar.
The time has come some City Council members to cease their animosity toward various community sectors, such as downtown Willmar advocates, the Willmar business community, minority population groups, or Willmar city employees, just to name a few groups. There is no room for hatred, nativism or retribution on the part of any Willmar city leader.
A point well taken after an election in which Willmar voters rejected anti-refugee activist Bob Enos a second time and by a larger percentage.
Photo: Even though these guys' ancestors might be responsible for bringing lutefisk to America, they still have a place in the fabric of Willmar's community. It's that kind of town. Photo by Dennis Benson on Facebook, via the Holidaze Parade page.
If you appreciate our posts and original analysis, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen, 33166 770th Ave, Ortonville, MN 56278) or use the paypal button in the upper right hand corner of this post.
Or you can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.