Missoula County Democrats and Republicans will be holding back to back City Council forums next week.

For the first time in many years there will be a primary election in several of the city’s wards, and though the seats are supposedly ‘non partisan’, there is great interest in both parties to get their candidates on the council to either support Mayor Engen and the current majority, or to challenge the status quo with new candidates who are rallying around Ward Four’s Jesse Ramos, who has been a vocal critic of the mayor and his policies.

The first forum will be presented by the Missoula County Democrats in the Sophie Moiese Room inside the Missoula County Courthouse on Tuesday evening July 9, while the Republican Party candidate forum will be held on Wednesday evening, July 10 at the Lambros Building on American Way.

Communications Director for Missoula County Democrats Lisa Davey has details about the first forum.

“We sent questionnaires to every single person who filed to run for city council. Everyone who returned a questionnaire is invited to the forum where we can ask them questions about their vision for Missoula and why they’re running for office and at the end of the forum we are able to endorse candidates,” said Davey. “If they give answers that we think line up with Democratic Party values then they receive the Democratic endorsement.”

Speaking for Missoula County Republicans, Vondene Kopetski said there was a major effort over the past year to recruit candidates that mirror the political philosophy of Ward 4’s Jesse Ramos, a fiscal conservative.

“We have been extremely successful in that we have a candidate running in all six wards,” said Kopetski. “We have specific criteria and we want to tell the voters that is they like what Jesse is doing, then they will like our candidates, because we’re running them as ‘Jesse’s Team’. We are trying to give the voters an alternative to what’s been happening on city council, and each one of the candidates that we’ve recruited are very fiscally conservative.”

In Ward 1 the candidates are incumbent Heidi West and challengers Elizabeth Weaver and Amber Shaffer. For Ward 2, they are Mirtha Becerra and Brent Sperry. For Ward 3, incumbent Gwen Jones is running against both Dakota Hileman and Drew Iverson. In Ward 4, the candidates are Greg Strandberg, Amber Sherrill and Alan Ault. Ward 5 candidates include incumbent Julie Armstrong, Alex Fregerio and John Contos. For Ward 6, the candidates are Nick Shontz and Sandra Veseka.

The council voted to hold the primary on September 10 and the cost of just over $50,000 will come out of the proposed 2020 city budget.