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After 12 years, Alongi kept his original promises

Anthony (Tony) Alongi is pictured in BreakAway Cafe in Hastings, where he said he'll likely be spending plenty of time in the future. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)

When Anthony Alongi first took a role in Hastings' city government, he did so because he wanted to get involved, he said. He and his family came to Hastings in 1998, and around the year 2000 he joined the Hastings Planning Commission.

After a few years, he was given the suggestion to run for city council.

"At that time it seemed like too big of a thing," Alongi admitted.

But he decided to give it a shot, bought a book about how to win an election and got to work. At the time, he said, there was a debate about some potential development in downtown Hastings; there was a plan to build condominiums in the space that's currently the Levee Park parking lot, and while some people wanted to see more residents in the downtown area, others were very much opposed to that sort of redevelopment.

That issue was one of Alongi's first platforms; he said he focused his campaign on finding a development plan for downtown that didn't require condos, getting docks installed at Lake Isabelle and fiscal conservatism with the city's budget. Lastly, he promised voters that, if elected, he would not keep his seat more than two or three terms.

That promise is what led Alongi to step down from the council this year, as his third term ends. He said he considered running for a fourth term and wondered if anyone would mind, but then realized that he would mind.

"I made that promise to (voters) and I remember," he said.

Alongi was first elected in 2004 and his final meeting with the council will be Monday, Dec. 19.

As he looks back on his 12 years on the council, Alongi said he's proud that he's been able to accomplish all the goals he set when he first ran. The condos in the middle of downtown didn't get built, but instead the city has nearly finished a major downtown renovation project, the Riverfront Renaissance, and also has two new developments that will bring more residents into downtown in more appropriate spaces: Artspace on the east end and Great Rivers Landing on the west. The progress there, he said, is evidence that "over time, we can make it so everybody wins."

Lake Isabelle now has a dock, providing more recreational opportunities for that park. The city's finances have also stayed fairly conservative, he said, with little change in the number of full-time employees over the years. That's important, he said, in order to keep government as accessible to people as possible. He said that the more complex government gets, the less accessible it is.

"I didn't want to see that happen to the city and I don't think it has," he said.

His proudest early accomplishment was successfully bringing the annual car shows to downtown. When the idea first came to Hastings, the city staff at the time resisted because it was happening too quickly for their liking, he recalled. While the bulk of the work in organizing the show was done by the Downtown Business Association, he said he had a role in convincing city staff to get on board.

"I gently encouraged them to move faster," he said.

Being on the council has given Alongi "a more positive view of what government can get done at a local level," he said.

Accomplishments also require teamwork, he noted. The Highway 61 bridge project, which he said was the city's landmark achievement during his time on the council, wouldn't have been possible without the efforts of the state. The pavilion in Levee Park wouldn't have been possible without the Hastings Rotary Club. There have been several other projects that have happened because of local partnerships as well and because the council he's been part of has been ready to take advantage of opportunities when they come up. That's why, he said, it matters who gets elected.

"If you have the right people in the right spot ... you can take advantage of things that come up," he said.

Both Tina Folch and Bryan Alpaugh, who stepped up as candidates for Alongi's seat, asked him for advice during the campaign. He said he told them both the same thing: run a good, clean campaign and respect each other.

"And they both did a very fine job," he said.

He said that he has faith that Folch, who won the election, will do a good job on the council. She asks questions, looks for ways to connect with the community and brings her own ideas to the table as well, he said.

As he transitions off the council, Alongi advised incoming council members to believe in themselves, their constituents and the city staff, to work together, trust each other and communicate.

"Everyone here is pulling together," he said.

He thanked his constituents and encouraged them to make the effort be informed about what's happening, to keep debating and thinking through the issues the city faces.

Looking ahead, Alongi said he will likely take a few months to just enjoy the extra time he'll have and spend more time with his wife and children. But he has a few ideas of how that time will be spent in the future, most of which involve the arts. He said he's considering resuming his local cello lessons, getting back into local community theater and possibly working on a novel. Plus, there is some traveling he'd like to do with his wife, he said.

He continues to work for the state. He is currently the section manager for policy and planning with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.