A Northside Challenger?

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Perhaps hoping that she won’t be trampled by several of her Minneapolis City Council colleagues on the way to the elections office, council president Barb Johnson has begun to explore a 2009 mayoral run. And while the prospect of a Johnson candidacy will hardly ignite grand passions, it would raise an intriguing question: Is there any political muscle left on the old North Side?

The third-term council member joins colleagues Ralph Remington and Gary Schiff in exploring a 2009 campaign; others are expected to make similar overtures in the months ahead.

On some levels, CM Johnson is an attractive mayoral prospect. She has a certain gravitas that Mayor Rybak musters only periodically, and she understands the importance political compromise plays in the difficult job of running a city. Indeed, Johnson is seen by many political insiders as smart, strategic and aggressive. Even her few opponents respect her.

Johnson, the daughter of longtime council president and Northside power player Alice Rainville, comes from the political school that is not afraid to use power. She has championed the controversial De La Salle football field/stadium — an issue that remains alive in City Hall and in the courts — which has not endeared her to historic preservationists. And she has done so while openly acknowledging that she serves on the school’s board of directors. (The city attorney endorsed Johnson’s position, ruling this is not a conflict of interest because Johnson would receive no monetary gain from the development.)

But is there enough of a voting bloc on the North Side to elect Johnson? Many political insiders argue that it’s the South Side voter that elects mayors nowadays. Voters in the so-called “Fertile Crescent” (wards 13, 11, 10 and 7 in southwest and south Minneapolis) were largely responsible for Rybak’s two landslide wins. Still, a look at the political influences in City Hall over the past 30 years indicates that Northsiders still can wield plenty of power and influence. Of the council presidents who have served since then, only Sharon Sayles Belton and Paul Ostrow did not have strong North Side connections.

Johnson, like her mom, Lou DeMars, and Jackie Cherryhomes, quickly learned how to build citywide coalitions to get things done — understanding the needs of Linden Hills and Longfellow as well as Camden and McKinley. That’s what mayors do.

And congressmen: Who would’ve thought that a young state representative from North Minneapolis would be able to build a district-wide coalition to succeed Marty Sabo?

The larger question, of course, is what will the ever-fickle electorate be looking for come 2009? Another outsider to shake-up the corrupt city government or an insider who knows how to get things done? Will law and order be the driving issue or soaring property taxes? And will there even be an incumbent mayor defending his record? Rybak may be ramping up a run for governor by then.

The Recruiter

Some local pundits have described Bob Olson’s decision to abandon his bid for the DFL endorsement for U.S. Senate as the predictable result of poor fundraising and a too-low profile in the midst of party heavyweights Al Franken and Mike Ciresi. That’s certainly a plausible scenario, as far as it goes. But it does nothing to explain his decision to move into the 6th Congressional District and challenge attorney Bob Hill for the DFL nod. In fact, we’re told that Olson was “drafted” by local politico Nikki Carlson to run against Hill, who last spring dumped Carlson from his fledgling campaign. Hell hath no fury. . .

Carlson, we hear, is also actively recruiting Rybak policy aide Peter Wagenius to challenge longtime State Rep. Phyllis Kahn for the DFL endorsement. Carlson’s a strong De La Salle football stadium supporter, so we assume Kahn’s opposition to the project has annoyed her. No word on whether Wagenius is taking the bait, but we suspect he knows better than to do business with fickle Nikki.