Urbas turns down mayoral job

Election winner sticks with decision to withdraw, 2021 election likely

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s surprise mayor won’t be taking the job.
Eric Urbas, who unseated incumbent Chuck Novak in the Nov. 3 election despite withdrawing from the race three months before, notified city officials on Wednesday that he is declining the position.
The decision seems likely to trigger a special election, in early-2021, to fill the city’s top political post.
Urbas, 31, conceded he had second thoughts after his 924-800 victory and heard from many supporters who encouraged him to take office as scheduled in January.
But after some soul searching that Urbas said involved “sitting in a deer stand for a good five days up in Roseau and another few afternoons in evenings in the sauna,” he arrived at a decision.
“I had a pretty good amount of time to have my thoughts to myself, and I talked to all the people I wanted to talk to and came to the conclusion that I made a decision in August for a reason, and that I need to stick to that decision.”
A first-time candidate for city office, Urbas pulled out of the contest late in the summer and cited health reasons for doing so.
Yet his name remained on the ballot, and despite the absence of a campaign, he pulled off a victory that made headlines across the region and state.
Urbas defeated Novak, who was seeking a fourth term in his second stint as mayor.
It sparked a nearly two-week period of uncertainty, with Urbas hearing from those who voted for him and city officials from here and elsewhere.
“It was very encouraging,” he said. “It was very humbling having all the support that I had or still have, but when it comes down to it, I need to do this for myself.”
Urbas has formally notified the city clerk’s office of his intent, and Ely’s city charter provides guidance on what may occur next.
Novak’s current two-year term will be done at the end of the year, and the council will convene in early-January without a mayor.
According to the charter, should an elective office become vacant by resignation or several other reasons, the council shall declare a vacancy.
It states “if the vacancy is declared more than one year prior to the next municipal election, the council shall forthwith, by resolution, order a special election for the unexpired term and provide all means for holding said special election.”
The special election would be required to take place within 90 days of declaring the seat vacant in January.
Had a vacancy occurred with a year or less to go before another municipal election, the charter allows for the council to fill the mayoral seat by appointment.
The developments figure to shake up Ely’s political scene.
While not currently interested in city office, Urbas wouldn’t rule out a future run.
“Obviously people respect what I think and say around town and maybe I can give people the right direction that are sitting in office,” said Urbas. “It’s just a time in my life right now that wouldn’t work. Down the road, maybe five years or less or maybe more, things could change.”
Novak, who served a two-year stint on the council and another two-year term as mayor in the late-2000s, and returned to city politics with a mayoral victory in 2014, also offered his first public statements related to the election.
“Suffice it to say that the results of the election were surprising to just about everyone,” said Novak. “I want to thank those that gave me the privilege of serving the community for a total of 10 years. I was reminded of a Winston Churchill quote yesterday on Veterans Day. ‘In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.’”