Name on garage a fitting tribute to Forsman; his impact was immense

St. Louis County commissioners did the right thing this week by renaming the joint public works garage on Ely’s east end in honor of their former colleague - now-retired commissioner Mike Forsman.
It’s truly fitting that the massive building will now be known as the Michael F. Forsman Public Works Facility.
After all, if it wasn’t for Forsman the garage wouldn’t be there today.
The project faced several obstacles, but Forsman was persistent and almost always out front flinging one barrier or the other to the side and keeping it on track.
It was Forsman who lobbied the late Jim Oberstar and helped secure funding that offset some of the construction costs and made the overall price tag more palatable to the major players - St. Louis County and the city of Ely.
And when the project faced opposition from some skeptics on the city council and more than a few citizens upset about its location - adjacent to Ely’s cemetery - Forsman became the public face of the project.
At a series of city meetings, Forsman prodded, cajoled and dug deep - utilizing his own political chits and goodwill to convince the council to use its own willpower and move forward.
It wasn’t easy and at times it looked like the project might careen off the tracks and go by the wayside, but Forsman helped it weather the storm and the garage was ultimately built.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but a decade later Forsman can rightly say “I told you so.” It’s not his nature, but he has a right to brag about a facility that serves St. Louis County and Ely very well.
But while it’s appropriate that the joint garage bears Forsman’s name, we like to think that it’s an honor that goes far beyond what the Ely native did to make sure a public works facility was built here.
In many ways, it’s recognition of three decades-plus of public service.
With Forsman sitting in the audience at the Morse Town Hall, with family members nearby and a granddaughter at times on his lap, one by one county board members saluted Forsman during a distinguished career.
There’s no doubt that Forsman, a mechanic and an expert on just about anything with wheels, carved his niche as the county’s transportation commissioner.
His trips to Washington, D.C., always by car, were legendary and fruitful to the public entities he served.
An alliance and sincere friendship with the late Jim Oberstar resulted in federal transportation dollars flowing this way, whether it was for the joint garage, Highway 169, or pick your favorite county project.
No commissioner logged as many miles as Forsman, traveling to Duluth on an almost weekly basis for meetings, heading to St. Paul for lobbying missions or traversing the county’s most spacious district.
Forsman often joked about windshield time and made it productive, returning calls and getting the people’s work done even as he ventured to and from meeting places.
In an era when money rules in politics, Forsman was the rare exception, refusing to take financial contributions from individuals and interest groups, and even mailing back $20 that was once stuck in his shirt pocket by a supporter.
Forsman was a straight-shooter, sometimes too straight for the liking of wilderness advocates and those who believe politicians should be more “politically correct.”
At times he would wear his emotions on his sleeve, defending his viewpoints or pursuing a cause with passion.
Proud of his hometown and an advocate for his district, Forsman was noted by colleagues this week for advancing a noble idea - that residents in Ely or Kabetogama deserves the same county services as those who live in Duluth or Hermantown.
Local governments, town boards or the citizen who asked Forsman to stop at his rural home had one thing in common - a devoted ally in Forsman.
Forsman got things done at meetings and behind-the-scenes, and the evidence of his work is everywhere: from the joint garage and improved roads throughout the county, to social services programs and aid to constituents that were bolstered away from the public eye.
Very often we wait until leaders - or plain-old ordinary people - have passed away to hail the good work they have done.
It’s rare that public praise in the form that Forsman received this week, or the deserving decision to name a building in one’s honor, happen while they’re still here to take it all in and appreciate the appreciation.
We salute the county board for their decision and join them today by saying simply - thanks, Mike.