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Mayor candidates face off at LWV debate in Willmar

Erica Dischino / Tribune Mayor candidates Marv Calvin, from left, Zeke Dahl and Stephen Peppin listen to a question presented during the candidate's forum Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. 1 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Mayor candidate Zeke Dahl waits to answer a question at the candidate's forum Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. 2 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune It was a full house Thursday evening at the candidate's forum for mayor Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. Mayor candidates were asked questions while the public was able to listen to their answers live. 3 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Mayor candidate and current Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin answers a question at the candidate's forum Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. 4 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Mayor candidate Stephen Peppin answers a question at the mayor's candidate forum Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. 5 / 6
Erica Dischino / Tribune Mayor candidates Marv Calvin, from left, Zeke Dahl and Stephen Peppin listen to a question presented during the mayor's candidate forum Thursday at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building in Willmar. 6 / 6

WILLMAR — Three very different individuals are vying for the position of mayor in Willmar. At Thursday's mayor candidate forum, held by the League of Women Voters, the three men were given the opportunity to share their ideas and thoughts prior to the primary election on Tuesday.

Following the primary the top two vote getters will move on to the general election on Nov. 6.

Steve Peppin, Zeke Dahl and current mayor Marv Calvin were asked several questions including what they thought were Willmar's biggest challenges and about city facility projects.

Dahl said housing was the number one challenge in Willmar, followed by infrastructure.

"How can you have a workforce of people to work when you don't have a place to live, to lay your head at night?" Dahl asked.

Peppin said his number one goal is to make Willmar a prosperous town by bringing in high-paying jobs, and growing opportunities for all classes of people. He said he has spoken to many people who have concerns about living wage jobs for their children.

"Stores will come to Willmar when there is spending power in Willmar. They don't care about parks, they don't care about parking lots. They want to know if Willmar is a prosperous town," Peppin said. "We need more jobs."

Calvin said he has helped Willmar's existing businesses grow, as well as assisted in the expansion of the Willmar Industrial Park over the last four years. He added there is economic growth in Willmar, including three Kwik Trips coming to town, a new commercial building on South First Street, expansions on the MinnWest Technology Campus and new construction in the Industrial Park.

"There are jobs in Willmar, there are a lot of jobs in Willmar. There are opportunities in Willmar and we are very blessed to have a vibrant economy," Calvin said.

Recent discussions on city facilities, including the city hall and community center, have dominated city council meetings. All three candidates were asked about their thoughts on those potential projects.

Calvin said the community center facility has been an issue for many years and that those who use the facility, especially seniors, deserve a safe and sound building. He said the $8.5 million he put in the 2018 city budget was for both a community center and a new city hall and that a potential local option sales tax has $2 million for a new community center.

In regards to the city hall, Calvin said he didn't break the tie at the July 16 city council meeting over a location for the building because he didn't want to divide the council on an already divided issue.

"It is a council decision, not a mayor decision. The council is empowered to make that decision," Calvin said.

Dahl had a few quick ideas to help the city hall, which he said wouldn't require millions of dollars.

"I would call pest control to clean up the cockroaches and a roofing company to fix the roof," Dahl said.

Peppin said there are other priorities the city needs to address before building a new city hall.

"This is about priorities guys. We have people, just last week with all the big rains, their basements are still flooded out," Peppin said.

Many of the questions asked at the forum were submitted to the League from people in the community. They covered a wide variety of issues affecting the community and items the mayor might encounter during his term. Peppin, following a question about the economic development commission, questioned what some of the queries had to do with being mayor.

"The city council basically runs the city, the mayor is there as a figurehead, to cut the ribbon when good things happen and when bad things happen you would hope they would do something about it. I am frustrated by some of these questions," Peppin said.

Throughout the forum Peppin did criticize Calvin and his tenure as mayor, saying Calvin is mayor only for himself. Peppin said if he was mayor he would be in it for everyone.

"We need to change Willmar. We need someone who is brave, that cares about people, that puts people first," said Peppin.

Calvin said he is the candidate to keep Willmar on a successful track.

"I think I have the proven leadership, I have led this community, I have done good things for this community," Calvin said.

For Dahl, he said the filing fee to run was the best $5 he has spent and that it will be the people's choice.

"Just remember on Election Day you have the choice of who you want," Dahl said.

The entire mayor candidate forum will be available for viewing on the Willmar Regional Access Channels.

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