With former MnDOT commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg expected to enter the race for the DFL endorsement in the Sixth Congressional District, We’re likely to see both current candidates — attorney Bob Hill and banker Bob Olson — step back and re-evaluate their candidacies. Olson, who earlier this year had launched a long-shot U.S. Senate bid, had shifted his attention to the Sixth largely at the urging of local political operative Nikki Carlson, who had hoped to exact some revenge against Hill, who had dumped her as campaign manager. Hill, for his part, may be better suited to the retail politics of the state legislature. Look for some clarity here in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, Tinklenberg is reprising the role of Patty Wetterling, in that he had vowed earlier this year to stay out of the race — just as Wetterling had done in 2005 — and jumped in when the political winds blew in his direction. He did the graceful thing last time around and deferred to Wetterling, even though his centrist political positions (pro-life, anti-gun control) play better in the Sixth than Wetterling’s liberal stances.
Wetterling proved to be out of her league in each of her congressional campaigns — despite huge name recognition and plenty of funding. The big question with Tinklenberg is whether he can overcome his reputation as a policy nerd and bring some real passion to the stump. If he can, there’s a chance that he could garner enough support from independents (he served in Ventura’s Reform Party administration) and “dump-Bachmann-at-all-cost” liberals to give the controversial incumbent a run for her money.
That’s not to say Bachmann is shaking in her boots at the prospect of facing Tinklenberg next November. She’s proven herself to be a hard-nosed campaigner whose right-leaning positions on Iraq, abortion, and taxes play well in the Sixth. Her easy victory over Wetterling last year in a down year for the GOP tells me she remains a formidable candidate.
More Mayoral Gossip
First-term Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Tom Nordyke is the latest local politico to feel the itch to run against Mayor R.T. Rybak. Nordyke, a disciple of City Hall power broker Lisa Goodman, tells us he’s been “encouraged to think about it by a number of people,” but adds that he’s not going to make any decision until next year. It has been widely presumed that Goodman would anoint Nordyke as her successor in the city’s Seventh Ward before her third term ends in 2009, but Goodman may be considering a fourth term, which would leave Nordyke to contemplate another four years on the Park Board.
Rybak Critics Ask ‘Where Are All Those Cops?’
Mayor Rybak is by now accustomed to getting hammered from all sides on the public safety issue, but now there’s a coordinated effort by Independence and Republican Party activists to intensify that debate. They’ve launched a new Web site, www.50morecops.org, that accuses the mayor of reneging on his campaign promise to use increased state aid money to bring the local police force back to the numbers it employed prior to the LGA cuts of the past three years.
Rather than the full complement of 893 officers Rybak said he would have in place with the 2007 budget allocation, the force is down to 852, with 10 of those on leave of absence, according to attorney George Soule, an IP activist and husband of former City Council Member Lisa McDonald. And because there are no plans to hire any additional officers this year, Soule estimates that normal attrition will leave the force with only about 830 cops by year end. “Did the mayor know that the Police Department would not provide for the 893 sworn officers when the budget was adopted, or later when he continued to claim credit for increasing the number of officers in 2007?” Soule asked. “Was police staffing overpromised and underfunded in the 2007 budget?”
(On Saturday, the group planned to kick off its initiative by passing out “50 More Cops” signs to supporters in the community room of the 5th Police Precinct, but precinct brass — citing a directive from Police Chief Tim Dolan — put the kibosh on that effort and forced them out into the parking lot.)
Rybak spokesman Jeremy Hanson acknowledged that the police force numbers were altered “to reflect past internal changes not previously accounted for at the time of the 2007 budget proposal.” For instance, 18 of the sworn officer positions were changed to civilian positions, 14 positions were eliminated due to the loss of special funding (including money from Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds that did not materialize), and three positions were added through additional grant funding. That all adds up to 864 cops — 29 fewer than projected.
“It is important to note that MPD staff levels fluctuate throughout the course of the year, making it difficult to articulate an exact, consistent number of officers on any given day or week,” Hanson said.
The mayor has increased the police budget by more than $20 million since 2003, Hanson noted, and he argued that violent crime is trending down as a result. Hanson also alleges that the criticism of Rybak’s public safety record can be traced past the IP and the Republicans to the city’s Police Federation, which has been a consistent supporter of Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “If the Police Federation and Republicans really wanted more cops in Minneapolis,” Hanson said, “they would stop supporting Gov. Pawlenty, whose budget cuts have hurt Minneapolis’ ability to hire more cops.”
The criticism even brought a rebuke from DFL State Party Chair Brian Melendez, who called it a “cheap shot” and an indictment against Pawlenty’s no-new-taxes leadership style. “It’s hypocritical that the Republican Party and Pawlenty’s other allies are blaming a responsible public servant like Mayor Rybak for Pawlenty’s own failures,” he said in a statement.
Those are pretty strong words coming from a party that has twice failed to endorse the mayor. It would be awfully ironic if this latest challenge to Rybak’s public safety leadership led to a warmer DFL embrace of the mayor. Just in time for a gubernatorial run?