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Rift Over Mining Splits Duluth DFL

A food fight has broken out in the press and on social media between DFL factions in Duluth. On the surface it’s about a vulgar private Facebook message sent over the weekend by Duluth City Council President Joel Sipress to Justin Perpich, chair of the Eighth Congressional district DFL and former aide to Rep. Rick Nolan.

Perpich went public with the thread, leading WDIO-TV and other Duluth outlets to share the redacted message with their audience.

“I was shocked,” Perpich said in an email. “I wanted to share this post because I wanted to call attention to aggressive online bullying and personal attacks that are being used by Sipress and other volunteers with the Duluth for Clean Water dark money political nonprofit.”

The disclosure quickly led to an online petition already signed by nearly 400 residents, demanding the powerful city council president resign his position and an official censure by his colleagues.

The Council President should be held to the highest of standards. Sipress’s language and threatening tone does not reflect the values and the professionalism we seek from our elected leaders. Please sign this petition asking the Duluth City Council to censure Sipress as well as asking for his resignation from the Council President position.

But the DFL squabble also reveals a deepening rift between left-wing environmentalists and pro-mining blue collar supporters. Perpich had criticized Duluth for Clean Water, an environmental group that’s endorsed Sipress and opposed the Polymet copper-nickel mine.

“To be perfectly honest, I lost my temper,” Sipress said Tuesday. “That’s not an excuse, but that’s what happened.”

He said the message stemmed from a comment Perpich made on a different thread about the role corporations should or shouldn’t play in local elections.

Perpich said his comment was, “I don’t like when any outside groups try to dictate elections. Goes both for Polymet and the Minneapolis funded group Duluth for Clean Water.”

The growing division was evident in several Facebook posts in support of Sipress.

Why would Perpich want to start a public feud on the mining issue that is now going to create even more division within the DFL. (Will Munger)

The whole political landscape has gotten so ugly. That being said, I’m not beneath dropping a few F bombs in order to protect the BWCA from sulphide mining. (Edna Ciurleo)

Mr Perpich, as leader of the 8th District DFL owes us better than to start a smear campaign against a group of well meaning citizens with who he happens to disagree. It was wrong and petty and not the first time he’s attempted to pick a fight over Clean Water and the Polymet issue. (Patricia McNulty)

Perpich brushed aside Sipress’ offer of an olive branch. But at least one city councilor, Noah Hobbs, left open the possibility of some sort of action against Sipress.

“Stepping down from council would be too much,” Hobbs wrote in an email. “However, stepping down from Council President could be appropriate, but that would be a conversation the council would need to have. It’s a conversation that clearly some would like us to have given the emails we have received today.”

Meantime, Duluth for Clean Water acknowledged that it had not filed a required campaign report with the city.

“A number of nasty smear efforts have surfaced over the weekend, evidently in relation to a needed campaign filing. While we question the motives of those initiating these smears — including the 8th CD DFL Chair who is also a public promoter of foreign mining conglomerate Glencore/Polymet — we note that if we are late on a filing, we will get it fixed as soon as business hours allow.”

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