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Newcomers enter race at Williston

WILLISTON — Williston is the fastest-growing small city in America, and two among the thousands of new residents want to be the town’s mayor.

Entrepreneur Marcus Jundt, who moved to Williston to open restaurants, and archaeologist Jim Purkey, whose family moved to North Dakota after job layoffs, are challenging city commissioner and lifelong Williston resident Howard Klug for mayor.

Mayor Ward Koeser, who will retire in June after 20 years as mayor, said he’s pleased to see new Williston residents getting involved in local elections.

“To me, it’s a good sign of health, and it means that people want to get involved in the community,” he said.

Williston, the epicenter of North Dakota’s oil boom, has some of the highest rental prices in the country and resources, such as police and fire protection, that are stretched thin. Many other local races on the June ballot also have candidates who have moved to town recently.

Klug said residents encouraged him to run because they want a mayor with longtime roots in the community who knows how city government can run.

“Personally, I think I can do the community good and I do love this community,” said Klug, who has served on the commission for six years. “It’s my town.”

Jundt, who moved to Williston 3½ years ago and is CEO of Williston Holding Company that has invested more than $15 million locally, said he’s running for mayor because he think the city can do better and think bigger.

“I’m running for a vision of where we can be and I’m running because I think I can be the best messenger for that vision,” Jundt said.

Purkey said he struggled with the idea of running for mayor of a town he’s lived in since December 2012. But friends encouraged him to run as an advocate for citizens who don’t feel like their voices are being heard.

“A lot of citizens feel alienated from the city council,” said Purkey, who moved with his family from Wichita, Kan., after job layoffs and is making Williston his permanent home.

Klug, elected to the city commission in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, said he hears from residents that the city is on the right track as it responds to rapid growth. He said he’s running for mayor because there is work to do, including completing major street and infrastructure projects, enhancing the city’s downtown and developing affordable housing.

“I think it’s going to come together in a few years and Williston will be a great town, the best town,” Klug said.

Klug has worked at the The El Rancho Hotel for 30 years and is part owner. It’s adjacent to Williston Brewing Company, one of our restaurants owned by Jundt, and signs promoting Jundt for mayor can be seen in the restaurant’s windows from the hotel lobby.

“I find it amusing,” Klug said.

Jundt holds events every Monday night at Williston Brewing Company to get to know residents. He told a recent gathering that his campaign budget is $100,000.

“I think this is the most important election in the history of the city,” said Jundt, a Minnesota native whose career as a restaurateur includes co-founding Kona Grill.

Jundt said Williston should find ways to keep more oil revenue locally, such as through directly or indirectly taxing the oil industry, to support police and fire departments, build new schools and improve the city’s quality of life.

Jundt interviewed to serve on the Williston City Commission last year when a seat became vacant, but was not selected by the commission.

Purkey, whose family first lived in an RV in Watford City and commuted to Williston due to lack of housing, said he’s running a grassroots campaign to represent people who are struggling to find affordable housing.

“We need someone who knows what it’s like to try to struggle day-to-day in this city environment and looking at the needs of the everyday citizen,” he said.

Purkey is an archaeologist, but after years working project-to-project, he began working at Williston Home and Lumber so he could have stable income for his family. He works Saturdays at Books on Broadway in downtown Williston and has worked as a substitute teacher in Williston.

If elected, Purkey plans to hold regular public forums. He said he’s attended city commission meetings that are so packed residents can barely get in the door and they don’t feel like their voices are being heard.

Koeser said he does not plan to make an endorsement for the mayor’s race.

“I’m just glad there are options for people,” he said.