Miranda Pacheco, whose voting rights were restored in April after a felony conviction, placed fourth in the Duluth City Council primary and will advance to the general election. Credit: Courtesy Miranda Pacheco

Miranda Pacheco, who did not have the right to vote until April, advanced in Tuesday’s primary and will appear on the November ballot in the race for Duluth City Council.

Pacheco received 14 percent of the vote and placed fourth of eight candidates, behind Arik Forsman, Lynn Marie Nephew, and Jenna Yeakle. Those four will appear on the general election ballot. Two will be elected to at-large City Council seats.

Pacheco, a 43-year-old alcohol and drug counselor, said making it through the primary was “unbelievable.”

“We worked really hard, and then we made it,” she said. 

Pacheco said she entered the race late with no team and no name recognition, and was amazed to see the work pay off.

Pacheco faced a rough childhood before falling into alcohol and drug addiction in her twenties. She was convicted of a felony from a 2013 drug possession charge and lost her voting rights. After a period of incarceration and homelessness, she entered Mash-ka-wisen Treatment Center in October 2015. 

She began her recovery journey while connecting with her Ojibwe roots. Now, she works as an alcohol and drug counselor at Mash-ka-wisen.

Melisa Gomez-Romo, who asked Pacheco to run for City Council, described her friend as a “powerful voice.”

“She’s one of those people that can make impossible things happen,” Gomez-Romo said in a July interview.  

Gomez-Romo, who operates a homeless shelter in Duluth, said that Pacheco’s experiences with homelessness and addiction would bring an important perspective to the Duluth City Council, especially as the city faces a housing crisis.

“These are systems in place that were meant to keep someone like Miranda down, and Miranda has overcome those barriers,” Gomez-Romo said. “And because of that, she knows what’s needed.”

Pacheco completed her probation in April and received notice that her voting rights had been restored—as well as her right to run for office. When she filled in the circle next to her own name, it marked the first time she had ever voted.

“I was super happy,” she said, reflecting on what her life had looked like a few years ago. “This is where I’m at in life.”

Miranda Pacheco cast her vote for herself early, on July 28. It marked the first time she had ever voted. Credit: Courtesy Bridget Holcomb

Pacheco said she would come up with a new campaign strategy before the general election.

“What we did got us through the primary,” she said. “But I wasn’t first or second. So we have a lot of work to do.”

None of the DFL-endorsed candidates gained the most votes in Tuesday’s primary, a surprise in reliably blue Duluth. Yeakle and Pacheco, who received the DFL endorsement, finished third and fourth in the City Council at-large race. Forsman, who received the most votes, is an incumbent DFL City Council member who announced he would not run again, before changing his mind and jumping into the race.

Emily Larson, who is seeking her third term as mayor, received 35 percent of the vote; 63 percent of voters preferred former DFL legislator Roger Reinert, who bucked the party label to run against Larson. Larson and Reinert will face off again in the November general election.

And Salaam Witherspoon, a DFL-endorsed community outreach specialist running for another City Council seat, finished third in her race and will not advance to the primary. The final two candidates for that seat are Tara Swenson and Howie Hanson. Hanson edged out Witherspoon by just 22 votes.

The candidates who advanced from the primary will be on the general election ballot November 7.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...