Fargo City Commission candidates debate safety of downtown Fargo

(Fargo, ND) – Seven candidates, vying for two spots on the Fargo City Commission, participated in a debate Tuesday night on The Flag and WDAY Radio, moderated by Tom Tucker and Ty Schonert.

The safety of those who are downtown was one of the topics debated by the seven candidates, which included two incumbents and five challengers.

“When it comes to crime and safety downtown, I feel that the police have been handcuffed," Nate Pullen said.

He said he has heard from citizens who say they don’t feel safe in downtown Fargo.

“I think that’s terrible for all the business owners downtown,” he said.

Pullen said he spoke to a local realtor, who told him that people “are moving out in droves.”

Delson Saintal, a business owner, said the safety of downtown Fargo “is a common issue.”

He said the issue is more mental health – and that city leaders should work with businesses in the downtown area.

“Let’s try to figure out the mental health,” he said.

Commissioner John Strand said cities across the nation are facing the same problems Fargo is.

“I’m really proud of our downtown,” he said. “I think we have a stellar downtown.”

Strand acknowledges the challenges downtown faces, including a need for more police presence.

Michelle Turnberg said a trifecta is happening in downtown Fargo—crime, homelessness and mental health.

She said there have been times when she has been downtown at night and afraid. She has had people reach out and grab at her.

“That’s not a good feeling,” Turnberg said. “I think if we’re going to put so much money into downtown, and create such a beautiful area that we have, we have to keep it that way.”

Former state legislator Al Carlson said his solution would be to “enforce the law we have on the books.”

“Until you have the portfolio for law enforcement, I think it’s really difficult for you to say, ‘I’m just going to add ten more police officers and we’re gonna clean them up and arrest them all,’” Carlson said. “It might be the right thing to do, but I don’t know if it’s the right answer.”

Candidate Anna Johnson said Fargo is growing.

“I am proud of our downtown,” she said.

Preston said she has seen a lot of change over the 17 years she has spent living in downtown Fargo.

“Downtown is relatively safe,” she said. “It is as safe as it is in any other part of this community.”

Preston said she understand the concerns the businesses downtown have regarding individuals on the sidewalks, saying it needs to be dealt with.