Rapid City’s mayoral candidates talk leadership

Five people are competing to become Rapid City's next mayor.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 9:09 AM MDT
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Editor’s Note: KOTA Territory News and KEVN Black Hills Fox, along with the Minneluzahan Center (315 North 4th Street), will have a Rapid City Mayoral Candidate Forum at the center, 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 9. The forum is open to the public, giving people the opportunity to learn more about the five candidates for mayor: Laura Armstrong, Brad Estes, Josh Lyle, Jason Salamun, and Ron Weifenbach.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Four out of five mayoral candidates for Rapid City mayor showed up Monday afternoon for the Rapid City Interfaith Candidate Forum at Calvary Lutheran Church. During the forum, they discussed how their leadership would benefit the city.

Laura Armstrong, Brad Estes, Ron Weifenbach, and Jason Salamun all expressed their thoughts on ways they would improve the lives of community members and the infrastructure of Rapid City. Especially with the projected growth in population from the B-21 Raider coming to the area. From ideas to improve the way Rapid City deals with infrastructure issues to uniting the community, these are the questions and the responses these mayoral candidates gave.

What is the biggest issue in Rapid City and how will the mayoral candidates address this issue?

  • Jason Salamun: “Really thinking about the root of the issues that we have in Rapid City, I believe it begins with the heart in the home. When you look at crime, when you look at kids in trouble, when you look at the attacks happening to our children today, it breaks my heart. Can you imagine being a kid today and the pressures that you’d have: social media, mental health, drugs, and alcohol, and confusion about what’s true or not, what’s right or wrong? I want to talk about the heart in the home. As mayor, I will work to promote stronger families. We need it; we need moms, and we need dads. I know sometimes marriages don’t work out, but that does not mean we can’t have loving moms and engaged dads. We need families to step up; we need parents to step up and love their families. So, my motivation for running is stronger families.”
  • Laura Armstrong: “I feel that growth is our greatest concern right now; growth and specifically how we handle it will determine how we maintain the quality of life that we have all known to come and live in Rapid City. There’s an increase in crime and homelessness; we have a lack of affordable housing, aging infrastructure, and overburdened and underfunded public schools, but the impact of rapidly poor planned growth makes all of these issues exponentially worse. We have to do some things differently as we move into the future. From the city’s standpoint, I’d love to assemble a growth and development task force so we can modify our ordinances and review and update our zoning laws and our building codes. At the citizen level, we need more positive and productive involvement from our constituents. Please join a committee, a board, or a commission as a volunteer. Everybody can do their part, and by doing so, we will have stronger citizens, stronger families, stronger businesses, and a stronger Rapid City.”
  • Brad Estes: “Homelessness is not something that a big government can cure; it takes a community. There are about four things that I think we should do to work together on this homeless issue. Number one is panhandling; nothing good can come out of it; drugs and alcohol are bought with panhandling funds. Number two is getting those people who want to change their lives to those organizations that can help them do so. Number three: We have to have some kind of discipline. Number four is supporting our law enforcement officials in enforcing the laws. As your mayor, I will look forward to working with non-profits and the faith communities to try and resolve this issue to create a better community for all citizens.”
  • Ron Weifenbach: “The most important issue impacting Rapid City is in the eye of the beholder. To address this, I would ask each community member what they would do to solve the issue. Metaphorically, we have driven our car down the road with no hands on the steering wheel, which is creating issues in the community with growth that people aren’t comfortable with. We have to get our hands back on the steering wheel and then make a decision: are we going to go off the road or are we going to stay on the road? Are we really going to do what it takes, or are we just going to talk about it? We all know that talk is cheap. We have to get the community in the room and figure out solutions; otherwise, the car goes off the road.”

How will the mayoral candidates build bridges, heal the divides and inspire people, bringing them together to work towards making Rapid City livable for all?

  • Ron Weifenbach: “Back in 2011, when I ran for mayor, my slogan was ‘The Father Sets the Tone,’ like the father in the household or the mother in the household, whatever the case may be, that person sets the tone. They look at that person for answers; they look at that person for what kind of tone you’re going to set. Are you going to be inclusive of everybody, with all the cultural differences in our community? Are you going to talk about them, or are you actually going to embrace them? Are you going to have a culture at city hall? Are you going to have a culture in Rapid City where people who come to do business have a tough time? Are you going to have a culture in the city that ignores potholes, ignores police protection, and ignores community safety, or are you going to get in front of that? The mayor does set that tone, and personally, I think that is the only way to make things happen. I think I am the guy who can answer those questions and set that tone, and I will set that tone if I am elected as mayor.”
  • Laura Armstrong: “Partisan politics has no place in municipal government. I made a conscious decision and chose the color purple as my official campaign color because that symbolizes my bipartisan method of governance. How do I build bridges, heal divides, inspire people, and bring them together? I am known in city hall and in the community as a unifier, whether it’s for a unanimous city resolution or being involved in a community improvement project. Long before campaign season started, I was active and engaged in the PTA; I volunteered at the humane society; I volunteered at the library; but more recently, I’ve been doing community murals, ADA picnics, addressing racial relations, and creating and mentoring youth city council. I’ve encouraged our council members and community leaders to get involved as well because I think it’s important to lead by example. This is who I am and this is what I do; I’ve always been community-based. I participate because I feel that’s expected of me, and I will continue my service to the community long after this campaign is over.”
  • Jason Salamun: “If we are ever going to get anywhere as a community, we have to see each other as human beings; your life matters as much as mine. When my wife and I raised our kids, we taught them four key phrases that I think really apply to our community: please, thank you, I’m sorry, and I forgive you. Starting with ‘please,’ this means showing one another respect; you are saying, ' You don’t have to, but I am asking you,’ and there is a certain level of respect even if you don’t agree with everything. Then we talk about ‘thank you.’ This is about gratitude towards one another in the community. Next is ‘I’m sorry”: this is about humility in our community. The last is ‘I forgive you.’ This is about forgiveness. We are not going to get anywhere if we don’t forgive each other. This community is made of special stuff, and I am not going to let it go away if I am your mayor. We are going to stay grounded in what really matters: treat each other with respect, show appreciation, give a little humility, and forgive one another when needed.”
  • Brad Estes: “With my time on the council, I was given the reputation of being a consensus builder. I take that as a compliment because it meant that I was willing to do one thing really well, and that was to listen. You just can’t solve problems unless you listen to the people who are affected by them. As your mayor, that’s what I want to be: a consensus builder. I want to invest in listening, and I want to be able to build a solid understanding of what the issues are by talking with the people who are impacted by those issues. Then being able to facilitate change in order to also have a competitive environment It’s the mayor’s job to make sure that we keep focused and nurture the growth we can have through building consensus and listening to our constituents.”

With Rapid City projected to experience tremendous growth over the next decade, what leadership focus and investments are needed in specific areas around the community to help individuals and families thrive?

  • Ron Weifenbach: “When we have bad roads that are brand new roads, there are one or two things wrong right. Either your criteria for building that road were incorrect or your follow-up that the road was built correctly was incorrect, yet we keep building them; we didn’t change a thing; we’re not doing anything different that’s going to change when I’m your mayor that will change.”
  • Brad Estes: “We need to make sure that we’re planning neighborhoods that have quality of life amenities, green space, parks, work with the schools, know where the schools are going to be, and make sure we’re designing. You know, our topography is what makes our community so beautiful, but it’s also what makes development so expensive.”
  • Laura Armstrong: “We must be good partners in our city and in our community at city hall and at Ellsworth. We want to make a positive and strategic impact. Not just for now, but as an investment in our future.”
  • Jason Salamun: “I want to make sure it is a safe place for you to raise your family I want to make sure it is a safe place for your kids to raise their kids, and I want to make sure that’s true for most generations to come, and so when we’re talking about growth, we’re talking about the opportunities we have ahead, and we need to make sure that it’s a safe community for everyone.”

Candidate Josh Lyle was the only candidate who did not attend the Rapid City Interfaith Candidate Forum at Calvary Lutheran Church.