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B’root mayoral race should be cordial

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A Hamilton city councilman who won his seat in an upset election several years ago is now taking on the mayor.

Joe Petrusaitis, 50, is challenging two-term incumbent Laurel Frankenfield for the part-time, $10,000 a year mayoral position.

Petrusaitis is no stranger to Hamilton politics. He beat incumbent councilman Mel Monson, who had been on the city council for 14 years. But since Hamilton is such a small town, there wasn’t much room to harbor any hard feelings, Petrusaitis says. Monson, a former teacher, lives three doors down from Petrusaitis and taught one of his sons in grade school.

Petrusaitis says the race against Hamilton’s popular mayor won’t be personal either. He says not a bad word about the city’s first woman mayor, only that he believes he can do a better job of it.

Both incumbent and challenger say Hamilton’s big problems lie in its crumbling and overworked infrastructure. The city’s notorious sidewalks have been a bone of contention for more than a decade. Plans were drawn up about 15 years ago to replace the Main Street sidewalks, though there’s never been funding to complete the job. And both candidates believe the city’s 100-year-old wooden water mains beneath Main Street need replacing.

“Hamilton is one of the oldest towns in Montana and a lot of these things have to be taken care of in the next five to 10 years,” Petrusaitis says. “There’s a lot of things people want and the city can’t always say yes because of budget constraints.”

Unlike many upstart candidates for municipal jobs, Petrusaitis has no illusions about what it takes to run a small city on a small checkbook. He interrupts himself, for example, to pass on the hot news tip that the city just purchased a new sewer truck. It will save the taxpayers money, he says excitedly, and will enable Hamilton to be more self-sufficient.

Likewise, Frankenfield, 69, is enthusiastic when she talks about what a small-town mayor can accomplish for her citizens. Most notably, she’s kept Highway 93 safe for pedestrians. Several years ago, at her urging the city purchased bright orange flags that pedestrians can wave at drivers as they cross the busy highway through town. While they might make pedestrians look a bit silly, they do stop traffic.

Both candidates harbor a deep affection for their little town, and both call themselves good communicators. And since the position is non-partisan it may be that the only things separating the two candidates are gender and age.

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