By Tu-Uyen Tran
Joe Burgum is known as a community activist who helped organized downtown events such as Alley Fair and the Red River Market, but he said Thursday he wants to make all the city's neighborhoods strong, too.
"We're in downtown Fargo right now because I believe it's our strongest neighborhood, and that's a result of planning, intention and investment by our community," the City Commission candidate said at an art gallery here. "We need to do the same thing for all our neighborhoods."
Burgum's made frequent appearances at city meetings and gotten involved in its business for a year and a half. He's pushed to get Uber to come to town, lobbying against city laws that might block the ride-hailing service. More recently, he's lobbied the city to form a task force to reform what he believes are complicated, business-stifling liquor laws.
Now, he wants to be one of the decision makers.
Burgum kicked off his campaign Thursday with a petition-signing event, a more grass-roots alternative to getting on the June 14 ballot. Most candidates find it more convenient to just pay a $100 registration fee.
He'll be running against at least three declared candidates — city Planning Commission member Mara Brust, Tammy Linn and School Board member Robin Nelson — with some others stating they would or might run, including School Board member John Strand.
The Burgum name
As Burgum's supporters mingled Thursday, some were picking up gray yard signs that said "joe loves fargo" in big, bold print. In small print, it said, "For city commission." The first reference to his family name is a mention of the website JoeBurgum.com in even smaller print.
As the son of Doug Burgum, Fargo's famous software tycoon turned downtown developer, Joe Burgum can't avoid being compared with his father. The two share a love of downtown, urban planning and entrepreneurship. They're even running for public office in the same year; the elder Burgum is running for governor.
Asked how much his father's decision to run influenced him, Joe Burgum said he has been going to city meetings for a year and a half. It just happens that Doug Burgum is his father and is also running, he said.
Asked if he expects to recuse himself during decisions involving downtown development, he said he would if it involved properties owned by his father's Kilbourne Group. But, he said, the group only owns 6 percent of downtown, not as much as people think.
According to Joe Burgum, strong neighborhoods are those with strong neighborhood associations, that are well designed, have a mix of housing without one kind overwhelming the others and, ideally, are centered around elementary schools.
As commissioner, he said he'd advocate better planning and better communication between the city and the associations.
Burgum's platform also includes investing in all modes of transportation used by residents, such as walking and biking, and improving civic engagement.
Having residents vote for a commissioner every other year isn't enough, according to Burgum. The city needs to invite more dialogue, he said, giving the example of Detroit—publishing all its data online and giving residents unprecedented access.
Going to all those city meetings, he lamented that he saw few members of the public. His goal, he said is to get as much energy at those meetings as the 1 Million Cups meetings held by area entrepreneurs.