FARGO (AP) - Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Wednesday that challenger Brad Wimmer was not around when Walaker rejected calls to evacuate the city during record flooding, so he should not be allowed to weigh in on that decision.
Walaker closed his comments in a KFGO radio debate by talking about a 2009 incident when he went against plans by federal and state officials to shut down Interstate 94 in order to use all four lanes for evacuation. Wimmer was in his first term as city commissioner at the time.
"Brad said that he would make the same decision," Walaker said. "Well, first of all, he was not here when this meeting was held. I think he was in California and so forth."
Wimmer interrupted that he was in another room with some other commissioners, but didn't respond further to Walaker's criticism during his own closing comments.
Wimmer has chided Walaker on the campaign trail for spending most of his two terms in office as Fargo's "flood mayor" and not furthering other causes, such as health and wellness, economic growth and working with state officials, for North Dakota's largest city. Walaker, the city's former public works director, said he won't apologize for helping the city through 13 floods.
"We needed every person on our first line of defense in 2009," Walaker said. "That's why we refused to evacuate and so forth."
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, who was governor in 2009, said Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was "pushing hard" for Fargo to evacuate, but Hoeven backed Walaker's decision against it.
All but about 100 homes were spared by a massive sandbagging effort that year. Fargo has spent four of the last six springs preparing for major flooding along the Red River and its tributaries.
Wimmer, 60, said it's time to stop talking about handing out credit for fighting floods and look ahead. He ended the debate by advancing his theme that the city needs a "fresh change" from the 73-year-old Walaker.
"I'm going to think from 2014, 2015 and on into the future," Wimmer said. "The city is upbeat, it's thriving. It's got a ton of synergy. As mayor, I'm going to match that energy. I'm going to match that synergy."
The election is June 10.