Mask mandates’ impact at the ballot box

Local News

BROOKINGS, SD (KELO) — Community response to the pandemic has likely been a deciding factor in some city elections held across South Dakota.

Mask-wearing mandates stirred controversies in communities like Brookings and Yankton where voters went to the polls on Tuesday. Candidates who supported mandates won their races, and some by wide margins.

A mask mandate received strong pushback in Brookings early-on, and the city’s mandate was an issue raised during the campaign for mayor

“At least one opponent felt that it was abuse of power and I guess I took it as a different approach as it was a community safety issue,” Brookings Mayor-elect “Ope” Niemeyer said.

“Ope” Niemeyer has served 10-years on the city council and sees his election to the open mayor’s seat, by a two-to-one margin, as a validation of the city’s decision to implement a mask mandate.

“The public spoke through this election and we need to move on and come back together and get our community opened-up again, start reliving life again,” Niemeyer said.

Yankton Mayor Nathan Johnson won an open seat on the city commission, with 67-percent support. But he sees his victory as less about masks and more about the moving forward.

“I didn’t look at this election as a referendum on how the pandemic was handled the last year, just because I feel at this point, a lot of people feel we made tough decisions during this last year, because I feel, at this point, a lot of people made tough decisions during this last year, but they really want to look ahead, to more optimistic times,” Johnson said.

While both mayors see promising futures for their communities, especially as more people receive vaccinations, they’re calling on everyone to come together to heal any lingering ill-will created by mask mandates.

“This is a small community and so you have no choice but to learn to live with each other and get along,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who’s finishing-up his third one-year term as mayor, finds out next month whether he wins a fourth term. In Yankton, the city commission decides who will be mayor.

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