Not Eudora
By Harry Welty
Published Aug 16, 2013

First Lady of Duluth

Recent events have prompted me reconsider a Not Eudora column I wrote back on May 27, 2004. The part I have in mind concerned, Laura Ness, our Mayor’s wife. One week into their new marriage Laura Ness filed as a candidate for the St. Louis County Board. I took some umbrage to this in a column titled “Gunning for Fay.” 

Laura had filed to run against one of my favorite St. Louis County Commissioners of all time, Joanne Fay. Joanne had just torked off half her seat mates on the County Board by beating them in court. They had drawn up new legislative districts with differing populations to make their political lives easy. Fay was so outraged that she spent $22,000 of her own money to fight the unconstitutional redistricting in Court. It was a sum that the losers never saw fit to reimburse Fay. It was a sum I can easily identify with because it’s almost the same amount I spent to fight the Duluth School Board’s Red Plan a few years later.

The powers-that-be were not happy to have AFSCME friendly county commissioners challenged and defeated.  Ness was just one challenger who swooped in to take on Fay that year.

Having just stepped off the Duluth School Board I was then a fledgling columnist for the Reader Weekly tasked with writing keen analysis of local politics. This was a situation that cried out for comment and I had a field day.  I just reread the column in preparation for this reevaluation. It’s not bad. (Google: Gunning4fay)

Although my column rolled its eyes at Laura’s new found political ambitions I did not mention my presumption that the county commissioner’s salary was the chief draw. Neither did I mention my assumption that Donny put her up to the campaign in hopes of augmenting a hand-to-mouth life. I doubt he earned much working part time for Congressman Oberstar and his City Council pay was a measly $15K.  The $50,000 county commissioner pay must have looked pretty good. Whether she would have made a good commissioner or not I can’t fault either Laura’s ambition or gumption. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Laura did not survive the primary and Fay herself fell victim to AFSCME which found a local saint, Steve O’Neil, to challenge her. (BTW - I am not using the word “saint” ironically. The recently departed O’Neil was a very good guy). Laura’s defeat allowed her to slip back into the general anonymity that is the lot of a city councilor’s spouse. Of course, she was bumped up a pay grade when her husband, now a sober “Don,” was elected Mayor. There were the obligatory stories about Laura’s life as the mother of a couple of cute little blonde kids but she was generally, and possibly happily, out of the limelight.

That all changed on May 28th of this year when a black man with dreds was shot in a heavily policed part of Duluth. As dozens of other witnesses stood rooted to the ground Laura Ness hurried over to help the victim heedless of whether more shots would ring out.

This selfless action was instinctive. It was not for show. Men in arms are awarded coveted medals for such acts.  Mayor Ness married the Good Samaritan most of us admire but few of us emulate.

Duluth no longer honors “First Ladies.” If ever there was such a position it has since fallen out of fashion. However, if the role was ever brought back to life, I can think of no better model for the position than Laura Ness.

Harry Welty is a local crank who also vents at www.lincolndemocrat.com