Back in May 1969, Jim Haney loaded up his Pontiac GTO in the Snarr parking lot and zipped the 300 miles to Zap, N.D. He didn’t participate in the rioting at the legendary “Zip to Zap” gathering that drew about 3,000 people – and the North Dakota National Guard – to the 271-person town, but Haney said he would never forget the “frat brat beer bash with fights.”
Forty-four years later, voters elected the zany Moorhead businessman and Celtic bandleader to represent Moorhead’s 2nd Ward, which includes MSUM, on the city council. He defeated one-term incumbent Mark Altenburg in last week’s elections 51 percent to 49 percent and will take office in January.
“I was quite flabbergasted,” Haney said last week in a phone interview as he prepared to leave town for a deer-hunting trip. “I’m not a political professional by any stretch of the imagination. I’m elated of course.
“There was no question that people were ready for change in Moorhead.”
Altenburg, who had not responded to an interview request by press time, is a “good man and an able competitor,” Haney said. “He’s given Moorhead four good years of service, and this is not the end of the line for this guy.”
MSUM President Edna Szymanski wouldn’t comment specifically on the council election results, but said, “The university tries really hard to work with all of our elected officials.”
Kevin Struxness, the Student Senate president, said he was “bummed out” that Altenburg lost.
“He would listen to students’ concerns and bring them to council,” Struxness said. “(Senate hasn’t) reached out to Mr. Haney yet. For all we know he’ll care as much as Mark did about students.”
Haney spent less than a year at MSUM before transferring to a technical college in central Minnesota, but he returned to Moorhead to start a photography business, where two of his three sons now work. His wife, Bonnie Haney, runs a dance studio. They have six grandchildren and two more are on the way.
It’s good to have people with business experience in elected office, said Chuck Chadwick, executive director of the Moorhead Business Association, which counts Haney as a member.
“We need concerned politicians and concerned citizens to help build the business community in Moorhead,” Chadwick said.
Haney said his priorities are developing the downtown area, reducing blight, improving city services, finishing the 20th Street South underpass project, and being a responsible steward of tax dollars.
“I’ve got a sound fiscal background,” he said. “I will bring that to the council.”
MSUM sociology senior Clare Palmer, whose late mother represented the 2nd Ward in the mid-’90s, said she worries that, unlike Altenburg, Haney won’t focus enough on his student constituents.
“(Altenburg) was ousted by a landlord and business owner who cares about those things, not people,” Palmer said.
But MSUM art photography alumnus Julian Dahlquist who lost by a wide margin in his own race for city council in the 3rd Ward, said he’s had “nothing but good interactions with Haney.
“Obviously, I wanted to see Mark win, but that’s the problem with having friends in elections. I have no reason to believe that Haney will be anything but good for Moorhead.”
The key to serving students, Haney said, is making sure there are more recreational and job opportunities this side of the river.
“I hope (students) can find that this is a great community and choose to live here after school as I did,” he said. “I love this town. It’s a great place to live. I hope they stick around and help us build this town.”
BY BRYCE HAUGEN