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Paine: ‘I’m ready to lead’

Jim Paine announces his candidacy Thursday for mayor of Superior at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior. (Jed Carlson/

Superior’s mayoral race is gaining momentum as another candidate throws his hat in for the challenge of leading the city.

Jim Paine, a county board member since 2009, has decided it’s time to step up to the challenge.

“I’ve been in county government for about five years, and of course, it’s all in the same building, and you get to know a lot of these issues overlap,” Paine said. “I’m looking to make more of a difference than I’m making. I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer. Mayor’s a pretty big job, but I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit.”

Paine got his start in local government as a student representative on the Douglas County Board. Two years after leaving the appointed position, the Marine Corps veteran decided to run for an elected seat, challenging incumbent James J.J. O’Brien in what was dubbed as one of the friendliest races for county board in 2008. While Paine lost his bid to the incumbent, he was appointed to about a year later to fill a vacancy in the 6th District. He has held the seat ever since, re-elected in 2010, 2012 and this year.

Now, he’s planning to bring the experience he’s gained through his work on the county board and years lobbying as part of Superior Days to city government.

But he’s facing a couple of challenges to get there. Mayor Bruce Hagen announced plans last month to seek re-election for his fifth term as the city’s mayor. Hagen served three terms between 1975 and 1987, then after 22 years in private business and state government, he was elected to the office again in 2011.

Former Superior City Councilor Greg Mertzig has also taken out papers to run for the office, according to City Clerk Terri Kalan. Mertzig said he plans to make a formal announcement Sept. 14.

“I think Superior is really ready to start moving forward, and start looking at what its future is going to be like,” Paine said. “I think it’s important for the next generation leaders to step up and take charge. I felt I was part of that. So I was ready to make the move.”

At 33, Paine is married and works as a supervisor of an adult foster care facility for Duluth Regional Care Facility. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a master’s degree in advocacy and political leadership from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

He’s also a member of the Rotary and served on the parish council at Cathedral for a couple years, in addition to other boards.

Paine sees the role of mayor as one of being the city’s biggest advocate.

“It’s important that we organize a city administration that leads by example,” Paine said. “I believe very strongly in worker’s rights and a sustainable, healthy, accessible environment. And the city is one of those big player’s in the area where the decisions they make are ones that affect our entire community. I want to make sure that we’re treating our workers fairly. I want to make sure that the development that we’re a part of always looks to the future and our environment, and make sure that we always have as beautiful environment as we have now. In fact, it should be a better environment.”

Ensuring the city is providing the best services possible to the public is among Paine’s priorities.

“Cooperation is the big thing,” Paine said. “One of the things that I think the county does extremely well right now is we work together, building relationships and understanding that everyone has to be a part of leadership decisions. That’s what makes us effective.”

Paine acknowledges that those relationships with the state and federal government are strained, and need to be improved.

“We need to establish a vision that we can all get behind,” Paine said. “At the county, that’s something we’ve been doing, very well, for as long as I’ve been there.”

He said the key is resolving disagreements by working through them.

Paine understands well the challenges posed by the state with declining revenue for local communities and limits placed on property tax levies. He said the solution is two-fold, working to grow the economy and reminding the state that tax revenue sent to Madison comes from communities in our region, a region with lower-than-average median wages and an aging housing stock.

“I think we have to face facts — the state has its budget crisis too,” Paine said. “This is a problem that is probably not going to get better … we have to build that 10-year plan that’s going to get us to focus more on local revenues and know what our future is going to look like if the state isn’t going to be an effective partner.

“I believe that cities are the future. I believe cities are the future of the whole country. Cities are able to do a lot of the things that state and federal governments are failing at in the last few years. We need to decide how Superior is going to be that kind of city.”

And it’s the future Paine plans to focus on.

“I’d like (voters) to look to the future,” Paine said. “I’d like them to decide what a 21st Century Superior looks like. I believe that I have a vision that can start the next 100 years of the city. I can’t do it alone. I want them to decide if they’re willing to be a part of a new, vibrant community.”