GF CITY COUNCIL: Candidate throws in hat from Fallujah
Iraq-based radio personality McNamara to seek seat
By Tu-Uyen Tran
Herald Staff Writer

"If I can work with the City Council of Fallujah, I ought to be able to handle the City Council of Grand Forks." So says the latest council candidate, radio personality Mike McNamara.
Make that Maj. Mike McNamara.

He's still with the Marines in Iraq, where he serves as the head of the Fallujah-area combat operations center. For 12 hours each day, he coordinates the delivery of everything from water to artillery strikes.

But he hasn't forgotten the place he calls home with it myriad worries and concerns.

That's why he said he wants to serve on the council after years of critiquing it on the sidelines as the host of "Mac Talk" on KNOX Talk Radio 1310. "I'm a Marine. We're doers. We're not spectators," he said.

His worries, he said, are rising property taxes and the declining supply of affordable homes. In Ward 2, where he lives, he said, he's watching very closely the way the city is trying to balance the occasional differences between UND students and homeowners.

Fallujah calling

So far, McNamara is the only Ward 2 resident to announce his candidacy. Incumbent Gerald Hamerlik is not running, and other residents who have expressed interest in running have not yet decided to do so.

For a long-distance candidate, the inevitable question is how will he represent people separated from him by thousands of miles and nine time zones?

By McNamara's reckoning, it will be pretty simple.

He'll call in to council meetings by phone, just like some council members do when they're out of town. He gets off work at 4 a.m. Baghdad time, which is 7 p.m. CDT, just in time for council.

To attend other meetings or just keep an eye on the ward, McNamara would rely on local representatives such as his friend, Chris Semrau, better known as the marketing director at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and his wife, Susan. He's also working on a Web site, e-mail and voice mailbox.

Constituents can leave messages, and he can call them, he said. "If (council member and state Rep. Eliot Glassheim) can serve from Bismarck, I can serve from here."

If all goes well in Fallujah, McNamara will be home by September, so it's possible that most of his four-year term would be spent at home.

While his situation is unorthodox, McNamara's concerns is very much what you would expect from a concerned citizen running for local office.

"(Property) taxes continue to rise," he said. "The city has to find a way to level that off." His way, he said, would be to put together a wish list and schedule funding for them so that they're spread out rather than bunched up in any one year.

More to the point, he said, "Government ought to come to you and present the case to raise your taxes."

McNamara also is worried about affordable housing, or the lack thereof in Grand Forks. Homeowners in his ward have complained of this fact due to the number of homes being converted into rental properties for UND students.

He said he doesn't know exactly how he'd solve that problem, though he thinks forced annexation of more land into the city might reduce what he feels is artificially inflated land prices.

Not average

Some things will set McNamara apart from your average candidates, though.

For one thing, he's the only one with his own talk show.

Technically, he isn't a journalist more an entertainer, he's said. But he said he could see how he'd have to tread a fine line between being someone who interviews politicians and being a politician himself. One situation: The council sometimes holds closed door sessions to keep details of business and legal negotiating strategies secret. Potentially, he could leak news to himself.

In that case, he said, he'd just have to be responsible and keep his two jobs separate.

McNamara sees himself as being different for another reason, though.

"I'd be the youngest person (on the council) and the only one with kids living at home," he said. "I think in the name of diversity they need me."
Tran reports on City Hall. Reach him at (701) 780-1248 or