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Sen. Mark Kirkeby addresses his legislative colleagues in March 2012. Kirkeby is running to be mayor of Rapid City.

Mayor Sam Kooiker will face at least one high-profile challenger in this June's Rapid City mayoral election.

Sen. Mark Kirkeby, a 52-year-old Republican who has served in the Legislature for seven years, said Monday he intends to run for the position that pays $93,000 a year.

"This is on the immediate radar screen for me, but I can't emphasize enough I've got two solid weeks to go here in Pierre, and that's my focus: to be the best possible legislator I can be," said Kirkeby, adding "I do look forward to the campaign trail."

Kirkeby is a former Pennington County commissioner who has worked for the past six years as the development director at the Black Hills Salvation Army. He said he will bring political savvy and experience to the race.

"I bring some credibility, some excitement, some honor to the position of mayor," said Kirkeby, who previously worked as a real estate agent and broker. "I think the timing would be very appropriate for me in my career, both being a lifelong resident in Rapid City and having an awful lot of quality, tangible items on my resume."

Kooiker, who will finish his first term in June, defeated two-term mayor Alan Hanks by 478 votes in the 2011 election. The mayor's term in Rapid City is for two years.

On Monday, the 38-year-old Kooiker sounded like he would seek re-election.

"I ran on the promise to help city government be more user-friendly and responsive, including a stronger commitment to existing infrastructure needs, economic development and streamlining our processes," said Kooiker, adding that he'll made an official announcement in March on his future plans. "Now is the time for the people to determine if those promises are being kept."

Other high-profile candidates have indicated they will not run and none of the city council members have yet decided to challenge Kooiker.

Council President Bonny Petersen said she doesn't intend to run, and Council Vice President Charity Doyle has made clear she won't either. Council Member Chad Lewis, though sometimes critical of the mayor, said Monday he doesn't plan on challenging Kooiker.

"Everybody on the council thinks about it at some point, but I don’t think it would be good at this time. I’ve got family and other considerations," he said.

Other well-known community members have decided not to run. Former council member Dave Davis, an insurance salesman and frequent critic of Kooiker both at city council meetings and on his blog, has previously said he won't seek the office either.

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Malcom Chapman, another former council member, said Monday he had no plans of running for mayor this year even while criticizing Kooiker's performance.

"There's a lot of discussion of people in the community who are thinking about it. I just think it indicates a lack of leadership coming out of city hall," Chapman said.

Pete Wernicke, chairman of the COMPASS internal auditing committee, said he wouldn't make another attempt at mayor. In recent months, Wernicke has been criticized by Kooiker, who at one point accused the committee Wernicke chairs of engaging in "witch hunts" against council members.

"It's almost like people don't want to have to deal with the ramifications" of campaigning, said Wernicke, who ran for mayor in 2011. "I already gave my shot at it. Myself, I'm just happy with the position I've got myself in now, with COMPASS, and it's where I belong. It's my effort of contributing to make a city run."

Council members Charity Doyle, Ritchie Nordstrom, Jerry Wright, John Roberts and Ron Sasso are also up for re-election in June.

Candidates can start circulating petitions to run Friday, March 1, and must turn in petitions with at least 50 signatures of Rapid City registered voters by March 26.

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Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or aaron.orlowski@rapidcityjournal.com

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