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Billings mayoral candidates participate in a forum on Aug. 22 sponsored by the Heights Task Force. They are, from left: Angela Cimmino, Bill Cole, Danielle Egnew, Jeff Essmann and Randy Hafer. Danny Sandefur did not attend.

If someone says “all the candidates are the same,” don’t believe it.

This year’s Billings city election may have the most diverse candidate field ever. There are contested races for all six seats up for election. Twenty-one candidates are campaigning.

Voting is underway for the Sept. 12 Primary Election which will winnow the field to two candidates for each seat. The winners will be elected on Nov. 7.

There could be as many as six new faces on the 11-member council in January or as few as three. Ward 1 Councilman Mike Yakawich and Ward 5 Councilman Shaun Brown are seeking re-election to their second four-year terms. Ward 2 Councilwoman Angela Cimmino is termed out after eight years on the council and is running for mayor. Mayor Tom Hanel also is termed out.

For now, Cimmino is the only woman on the council. In January, Billings could have up to four women on the City Council. Besides Cimmino, Danielle Egnew is seeking the mayor’s job. Nadja Brown and Denise Joy are among four candidates campaigning in Ward 3. Penny Ronning is running in Ward 4’s two-candidate primary. Rhonda Whiteman is competing against three other candidates in Ward 5.

The field includes millennials, such as Charlie Smillie in Ward 1, Ta’jin Perez in Ward 2, Tyler Starkweather and Nadja Brown in Ward 3, and Alexander Clark and Rhonda Whiteman in Ward 5. It’s great to see so many younger adults eager to share their ideas and energy with their city.

Among baby boomers on the ballot are retired firefighter Frank Ewalt in Ward 2 and Mike Larson in Ward 3. Larson served two terms on the council from 1995 to 2003.

Jeff Essmann, a mayoral candidate, is making his first bid for city office, but he has served in the Montana Senate and House.

There’s considerable diversity in occupational backgrounds: Mayoral candidate Bill Cole practices law. Mayoral candidate Randy Hafer is an architect. Mayoral candidate Danny Sandefur is a real estate agent.

A U.S. military veteran, Alexander Clark works in a children’s after-school program while completing his college degree. Ward 4 candidate George Blackard is a U.S. veteran and a leader in local and state veterans organizations. His opponent, Penny Ronning, founded a local organization to prevent human trafficking. Dennis Ulvestad works in mall security.

Some candidates are Billings natives. Others migrated here like Roger Gravgaard who grew up in North Dakota and coached football in Glendive before moving to Billings.

We encourage voters to get to know their candidates. For starters, check out what they had to say in Gazette guest opinions that were printed last week and are now posted at Give your vote serious consideration because there are real choices on the Sept. 12 ballot. Then mark your ballot and sign the envelope. Add a stamp and mail it by Sept. 8 — or deliver it back to the Yellowstone County elections office before 5 p.m. on Sept. 12.

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