ELECTION RESULTS: Despite dropping out, Urbas unseats Novak

by Tom Coombe
Eric Urbas pulled out of Ely’s mayoral race three months ago, but local voters apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer.
In a stunning upset that sent shockwaves across the state, Urbas unseated incumbent Chuck Novak, collecting 924 votes to Novak’s 800.
The victory gave Urbas a two-year term as Ely’s mayor, but it’s not yet clear if he will take the city’s top political post.
He cited health reasons when withdrawing from consideration in August, but conceded Wednesday that the unanticipated win and encouragement from supporters and city leaders both from Ely and elsewhere have given him second thoughts.
“I don’t just want to say right now that I’m totally done,” said Urbas. “There’s still a chance it might happen. I don’t want to let people down.”
The 2007 Ely High School graduate is set to become mayor in January, but said he wouldn’t take that long to make a decision.

“I’m going to decide sooner than later, just for everybody’s sake,” said Urbas, who was interviewed via cell phone while returning to Ely from a work-related trip.
Novak, who was seeking a fourth term in his second stint as Ely mayor, declined comment.
The prospect of a mayoral vacancy in early-2021, should Urbas opt against taking the position, is already raising questions in Ely, across the Range and at City Hall.
Clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski said the city would follow appropriate laws and the city charter, which seem to suggest a temporary appointment to fill the mayoral post and a subsequent special election.
The council is meeting Thursday to canvass election results.
“We anticipate the council will pass a resolution accepting the local election results for mayor and council,” said Langowski. “We have not received communication concerning Mr. Urbas’s intent following the election results and are unable to speculate on his possible decision to either take the office on January 1st or decline the office. State statutes and City Charter outline the process for special elections to fill vacancies if one is declared. The charter references vacancies. We are also collecting information concerning timelines if a special election is required if his decision results in a vacancy.”
The Urbas victory caught city officials and both candidates off guard after a non-existent campaign.
After entering city politics for the first time, Urbas pulled out of the race because of his health, but the decision came after a withdrawal period and by law his name remained on the ballot.
Urbas publicly announced his decision, did not campaign for mayor, and explained his decision to many would-be supporters.
“I think everybody understood my reasons for dropping out,” he said. “And a lot of people told me they didn’t vote for me because they knew I was out of the race.”
Yet Urbas said he heard from many Ely residents who said they would vote for him nonetheless.
“I thought I would get a few votes but nothing like we saw,” said Urbas. “I explained to people, and they wondered why I was still on the ballot.”
It didn’t take long Tuesday that Urbas had more than a small following.
The in-person votes were tabulated first at the Ely Senior Center after polls closed at 8 p.m., with Urbas maintaining a 579-447 edge over Novak.
The absentee count revealed an eight-vote edge for Novak but nowhere near enough to turn the tide.
Urbas added that as he ponders his next move, he’ll “figure out if this is something I can do physically. A lot of people have reached out that are willing to be involved and help out.”
Novak will remain mayor through the end of the year, and Urbas would, if he accepts the position, assume office at the first council meeting of 2021.
The mayoral race attracted attention well beyond Ely, with news outlets from both Duluth and the Twin Cities covering the unique and surprising outcome.
Novak served a two-year stint as mayor in the late-2000s and reclaimed his old job in 2014, and easily won re-election in both 2016 and 2018.
Ely’s city council race had no drama, with incumbents Jerome Debeltz (1,204 votes), Ryan Callen (1,173) and Paul Kess (1,038) running unopposed and winning four-year terms.
Debeltz is the dean of Ely’s city council, serving consecutively since 1994.