Duluth mayor makes Ely visit

Larson talks economic issues and more with area leaders, residents

by Tom Coombe
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has made many trips to Ely, but her visit this week was her first in an official capacity.
The leader of St. Louis County’s largest city spent a night in town and visited local businesses, met with city officials and had a series of conversations with area residents.
Larson, who was guided Thursday morning by county commissioner Tom Rukavina, said there was no formal business for the trip other than “really just making the rounds with our northern partners.”
The first-term Duluth mayor got input from Elyites in a bevy of issues.
“People have been really honest, which I appreciate,” said Larson. “I did a lot of listening, and there were some definite themes. Jobs are really important. An economy that’s diverse is really important, and keeping our schools going and keeping our kids, and mining.”
In addition to an informal meeting with city council members and city officials, Larson spent time in a couple of local coffee shopts.
“My favorite thing to do is to get togehter when people are having coffee,” she said. “Whether it’s church groups, civic groups, men’s and women’s groups. People are just being themselves and they are super honest.”
A veteran of many trips to the Boundary Waters, Larson has also previously visited the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center with her family.
She noted the importance of tourism in her city as well as Ely, but acknowledged the impact of mining, not only on the Iron Range but Duluth as well.
Rukavina noted that 60 percent of the revenue generated by Minnesota Power comes from mining, while Larson noted the connection between industries in Duluth and the mines on the Iron Range.
Larson also prodded Rukavina to share one of his favorite quips.
“I tell the mayor the ships don’t come to Duluth to see the tourists, the tourists come to Duluth to see the ships,” said Rukavina. “Almost all of those ships are bringing in coal or limestone for the mines and they’re leaving with iron ore.”
While Larson stopped short of taking a position on proposed copper-nickel mines in northeastern Minnesota, Rukavina said she was instrumental in blocking a Duluth council vote to oppose the projects.
Larson explained that stance during a stop at the Echo office.
“We are a regional economy and that’s really important,” said Larson. “So when that resolution came up and didn’t pass, and I believe that was the right ending to that resolution, the important thing was for there to be a public process for people to speak on that and let the process play out.”
On copper-nickel mining, Larson said “we have very strong policies in place and I think it’s important for that to be as public as possible and let the science weigh in. I’m not an expert in those areas, and I try really hard so that the line for me is to allow other people to do their jobs.”
Larson spent part of Wednesday in Virginia, and later came to Ely, where she ate dinner at the Boathouse Brewpub and stayed at the Adventure Inn. Her tour continued Thursday afternoon in Hibbing.
Frequently mentioned as a possible contender for higher office, Larson said she remains focused on Duluth .
“I love what I’m doing and I made a commitment to Duluth,” said Larson. “That’s my job.”