Mayor Sam Kooiker's Landslide Reelection: Political Redemption


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By Shad Olson

Created: Wed, 05 Jun 2013 12:00:00 MST

Updated: Sun, 17 Nov 2013 10:38:28 MST

Written by Shad Olson


Don't call it a comeback. He's been here for years. And don't call him an underdog. Not anymore. The thing is, there was a time when Mayor Sam Kooiker's monumental drubbing of State Senator and mayoral challenger, Mark Kirkeby to gain a second term, seemed an unlikely eventuality. Winning such a race 73-27 would have seemed downright fictional.

But that was a different time.

That time was Winter 2010, when then Councilman Kooiker faced a litany of collegial complaints and public outcry about his continual requests for information from Rapid City Department heads that were often ignored.

In February 2010, Kooiker's fellow council members voted 6-3 to censure him (a stern reprimand and a declaration of snooty disdain) for doing what would become his stock-in-trade: using a laser-like sense for detail and efficiency (honed in the office of a Fortune 100 CFO) to spot and eliminate excess in city spreadsheets.

Heaven forbid a public servant not simply defer to the minutiae and expertise of paid bureaucrats.  Heaven forbid he not simply take their word for gospel and cash a check.  Rare is the time when the emperor appreciates being told he's au’naturale.  Beheadings normally follow.

Recently, Mayor Kooiker told me that during the period of public scrutiny and general disgust by his council colleagues, he feared his political career and his resume had been irreparably stained. But as public sentiment began to side squarely with Kooiker and turn against his critics, it became clear that exactly the opposite was true. What had been meant to shatter his career, his reputation and his time in office instead cemented his status as a junkyard watchdog for city government. Good people generally don't obey a 'Kick Me,' sign, no matter who installs it. In Kooiker's case, the sign just wouldn't stick.

What was meant for evil was turned squarely for the good of the man whose persistence, integrity and commitment to protecting the public interest were so ironclad that they wrankled his political enemies to no end, and still do.

The public could smell a scripted lynching, and they weren't buying popcorn. They were too busy dismantling the gallows.

The general sense of things was that the naysayers among public department employees and elected servants were simply jealous of a man who was intent on doing his job in challenging the status quo. In subsequent elections, the six council members who voted to reprimand Kooiker were sent packing, including one, Lloyd LaCroix whose latest attempt to return to the council was turned back Tuesday night by incumbent John Roberts. Sam Kooiker meanwhile, has yet to lose an election, since. His latest showing is as dominant a win as any contested election in Rapid City history.

And don't call it a comeback.

Tuesday night, watching the precincts pile up and numbers consistently showing him with a 3 to 1 advantage over challenger Mark Kirkeby, it was easy to get caught up with the enthusiasm of Kooiker supporters happy to see the one-time underdog miles ahead of his competition. Kooiker's 'Underdog' collar and nametag are now moldering somewhere back in the dust alongside the 'Kick Me' sign that never quite fit. And rightly so.

After all, underdogs don't win landslides. Junkyard dogs have been known to, and more than once.

And they seldom have to pick the fight to come out on top.
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