Roger returns to City Hall

Skraba wins third stint as mayor, squeaking past Omerza by 13 votes

by Tom Coombe
After nearly a decade away from city politics, Roger Skraba has returned in improbable fashion.
The two-time Ely mayor earned a third stint in the city’s top political post Tuesday, when he edged council member Heidi Omerza by 13 votes in a special election for mayor.
Skraba collected 376 votes to Omerza’s 363, with current interim mayor Chuck Novak getting 36 write-in votes.
Skraba will fill the mayor’s seat Tuesday, for the first time since the end of 2012, following a strange set of circumstances that started with Novak’s surprise loss to Eric Urbas in last November’s mayoral race.
Urbas, who had withdrawn from consideration months earlier, subsequently turned down the job and Novak was appointed on an interim basis until the city, because of regulations outlined by the city charter, could hold a special election.
Skraba finished second to Omerza in an April primary that featured six candidates, and squeaked past the longtime council member this week in a race decided by one percentage point.
In the wake of his victory, Skraba said he expected a close race.
“I really thought it might be decided by five or seven votes,” said Skraba. “I had so many people talking to me, saying ‘we’ve got your back.’ But you never know. You don’t see the other side. I know from past experience that lawn signs mean nothing. I thought it would be very close.”
In the April primary, Omerza collected 203 votes and Skraba had 146 in a primary that brought out 571 voters.
This week, 785 Ely voters went to the polls including 638 on Tuesday and another 147 casting early or absentee ballots.
The contest provided some drama after the polls closed at 8 p.m., with clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski running the same-day ballots first, which showed Skraba with a 54-vote (329-275) edge.
The early votes went Omerza’s way (88-47) but the margin wasn’t enough to overcome the edge Skraba built.
Novak attracted three-dozen write-in tallies and there were eight other write-in votes, including three for current council member Paul Kess.
Omerza will remain in her council position, and had she won it would have triggered another special election that would have resulted in about $10,000 in additional expenses for the city.
Skraba made the cost of the special election a campaign issue.
“I put my name in and I wanted to save the community $10,000 or more for another special election, and that was truly my driving force,” said Skraba.
Skraba said he talked with Langowski on election night, and that he’s excited to work with city staff and the council to work for Ely’s benefit.
“I know one thing, for me the community is number-one again,” said Skraba. “Some things need to be changed in our community. I heard a lot campaigning. I have no problem working with this council. I want to look at our structure for employees. Right now we have an opportunity with people retiring to maybe look at a new management style.”
Skraba is no stranger to City Hall or the mayor’s chair.
He won election to the council in the 1990s and was elected mayor in 2004, serving for two years before losing to Novak in the 2006 race.
Skraba came back two years later to unseat Novak and won election again in 2010 before losing his position to Ross Petersen to 2012.
In addition to city politics, Skraba has run unsuccessfully for the state legislature, losing as an independent in 2002 and as a Republican in 2015.
He’s set to take office at Tuesday’s meeting and will serve through the end of 2022.
Should Skraba want to continue as mayor, the seat is up for election again next year.