FREE SPEECH ZONE | Minneapolis elections matter


We are getting pretty close to the end of the municipal election cycle that will be Minneapolis’ first use of the Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) method of choosing our Mayor, the thirteen members of our City Council, 6 district-based and 3 at-large members of our independent Park Board, 2 members of our Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), the balance of which latter independent body currently has as voting members one representative of the Park Board, the Mayor, the President of the City Council, and the Chairperson of the City Council Ways and Means/Budget Committee. There is also a charter amendment on this year’s ballot that would eliminate the current structure of the BET and place those functions entirely in the hands of the city council.  

There are eleven candidates for mayor, some more likely than others. It is widely believed that Mayor R.T. Rybak will not only seek a third term as mayor but will also mount a serious campaign aimed at election to be Governor of the State of Minnesota, a decision ultimately to be decided on November 2, 2010 by the voters of the state. There are many putative candidates for this statewide office and the political parties will have a say about their respective preferences prior to a primary election to be held on September 14, 2010.

Not all the thirteen Wards have outcomes in doubt. In Ward 1, Kevin Reich (DFL) is likely to win easily. In Ward 2, CM Cam Gordon (Green) will also waltz to victory. I’ll hazard a guess that Ward 8’s incumbent Elizabeth Glidden (DFL) will prevail, as will John Quincy(DFL) in Ward 11 and CM Sandra Colvin Roy (DFL) in Ward 12. The challenger in Ward 13, Kris Broberg (IR) will find it difficult to overturn CM Betsy Hodges (DFL), who is well-financed and has many supporters in this prosperous part of the city.

The jury is truly out in Wards 7, 9 and 10. These are essentially two-person races. In Ward 7, a legal cloud over the incumbent is no small matter and may have implications for the incumbents in Ward 3 and Ward 9 as well. This has to do with the equivalent of insider trading IMHO. A judicial decision has pointedly singled out CM Lisa Goodman (DFL) as a malefactor and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men may not be able to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again. The cost to the taxpayers may be substantial when all is said and done. The challenger in Ward 7, Michael Katch (Ind), has a substantial background in finance as a former commodities trader and is unforgiving in his expert assessment of the city’s budgetary woes.

In Ward 9, the rematch between CM Gary Schiff and his returning opponent Dave Bicking is colored by CM Schiff’s practice of leaning on developers for contributions – nothing new there, pretty much standard practice – but CM Schiff’s leadership role as Chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee and as a member of the Planning Commission brings heightened scrutiny of his official actions and he apparently dissembled about his involvement with CM Goodman while under oath. Not good news for him! Dave Bicking (Green), meanwhile, is a very vigorous member of the Civilian Police Review Authority and has championed other “hot-button” causes such as opposing the channeling of taxpayer dollars into privately-owned stadiums (a pricey practice that just keeps getting more expensive over time. Stadiums and convention centers are not self-supporting.), and helping to ward off a garbage burner (in which CM Goodman had a financial interest) from being located in an already environmentally vulnerable part of the city. 

In Ward 10, the race to succeed CM Ralph Remington is being watched as a harbinger of change beyond the personalities involved. Meg Tuthill (DFL) is a long-time small business owner close to the DFL establishment at times and also a contrarian being coached by former Ward 10 CM Lisa McDonald. Her opponent is Kim Vlaisavljevich (Kim V – Independent), who hails originally from a family of Iron Range activists who have not fared well at the hands of the DFL establishment. Kim is a very sturdy candidate, given her day job as an accounting and financial management consultant to some of the area’s largest corporations and just now there are some very unhappy stakeholders in Ward 10 who have not been well-served by the  planning intentions being laid on by the existing administration in City Hall.

In Ward 3, CM Diane Hofstede (DFL) may need more than her name recognition to preserve her first-term incumbency. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the alleged process errors that cling to her performance of her public duties are headed for the courts. These are allegations about giving ex officio and presumed illegal advantage to one or more developers with proposals before the Council and its committees. There may be no criminal intent (as was seemingly the case with former Ward 6 CM Dean Zimmerman, who was convicted of taking money illicitly from a developer and for his trouble spent a goodly time in federal prison) but laws about improper influence are very clear and ignorance will not serve as an excuse. CM Hofstede’s opponents look to support from the thousands of students who live in Ward 3 near the campus of the University of Minnesota. One in particular, Melissa Hill, describes herself on the ballot as a civil disobedience candidate and has a very strong case about police misbehavior particularly germane both to these young voters and to the Ward 3 voters across the Mississippi River on the North Side of the city where tensions between the residents and the police are sometimes quite intense.

In Ward 4, City Council President Barb Johnson (DFL) is seeking a fourth term from voters rather dissimilar to those who have returned her and before her, her mother, to leadership roles in the city government since the 1970s. There’s an element of arteriosclerosis in that statement. Her endorsement in her party’s convention came only after a protracted process that involved “cooking the books” – setting aside the convention’s own rules so her supporters could outlast any opposition. This is a familiar practice lately and does not speak well of any notions of egalitarianism one would wish to ascribe to the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. CM Johnson’s principal opponent IMHO is Marcus Harcus (Green), who has connected well with the diverse population than now graces Ward 4, is a graduate of Patrick Henry High School, and is above all a standard-bearer in the generation of 30-somethings that are now in play.

In Ward 5, the same can be said of Kenya McKnight (DFL), who is also a life-long Northsider. She is in early 30s, a graduate of North High School, and has been very warmly received by national African-American leadership in the Congress. It must be said that there are many families in North Minneapolis who take great pride in their part of town, whatever the foreclosures, street crime, and predation by unscrupulous financial interests. Kenya is a  younger version of another candidate in Ward 5, former Ward 5 CM Natalie Johnson Lee (then Green, now DFL) who appeals to those who helped her unseat Natalie’s predecessor, former CM Jackie Cherryhomes (DFL).

Another Ward 5 candidate, Lennie Chism (DFL), has an entrepreneurial spirit that has been very badly abused by former CM Cherryhomes and her allies, including the Mayor, R.T. Rybak (DFL), the current Ward 5 incumbent, CM Don Samuels (DFL), and a motley crew of city functionaries whose task has been apparently to use their enforcement powers to exclude Mr. Chism from the benefits presumably to flow from federal stimulus money and other public sources. There’s plenty of insider pool in Ward 5 and if that can of worms gets opened for the rest of us to see, my theory that this is a contemporary example of the total clearance mentality of the 1960s may have some validity and if so, machinations meant to advantage developers at the expense of the citizens affected by public process may once again come to a bad end.

The current incumbent, CM Don Samuels (DFL) made the egregious statement that North High ought to be burned down, thereby alienating at least three generations of Northsiders who take exception to such cavalier opinions. He may well be an early casualty in this battle over land use and he may well not be the last to be reminded that the wheels of justice grind slowly but grind exceedingly fine. 

In Ward 6, the incumbent is City Council Vice-President Robert Lilligren (DFL), who will be traveling to far-off Sweden again later this week, to speak warmly in company with former Wells Fargo Vice-President Hussein Samatar about the progress that has been made in providing opportunities for entrepreneurs of East African extraction who are settling in Minneapolis, home to the largest urban population of Somalis in these United States. He is also keenly interested in transportation issues, notably seeking to facilitate commuting from the southwest suburbs in and out of the Minneapolis central business district (CBD). These are both worthy initiatives to be sure.

But … and it’s a big “but” …  He is not very adept at keeping in touch with his constituents. The British have a concept about this. “Rotten Boroughs” were safe constituencies that were awarded to party regulars who could then concentrate on national matters and not be pestered with the rigors of campaigning for office as Members of Parliament. As evidence of the blowback about this in Ward 6, there are five challengers seeking to unseat the incumbent. When the cat’s away, the mice will play! Mice come in various flavors, of course, and it’s not helpful to learn that one of the challengers has so far lost 30 lawn signs to anonymous predation. Nor is it good karma to praise the union movement and take their money while using non-union workers on an ever-expanding set of holdings in an area of Ward 6 slated for high-density development. Nor is it a happy thought to observe that Native American tribal affiliation can be trotted out on ceremonial occasions and then set aside like out-of-fashion apparel. Nor is it a happy thought to observe that a prominently gay politician can keep company with his elected peers in the annual Gay Pride parade year after year while hundreds of GLBT youth fall victim to homelessness, sexual predation, and despair in our not-so-fair city.

I am perhaps a little too close to the fire in my home Ward. But this is, after all, an opinion piece. I am relieved to see Mike Tupper, Mohammed Cali, and Andy Exley come forward to challenge our local Goliath. It is not an easy situation in Ward 6. By far the electorate is comprised of renters – nearly 90% in the last census. The actual voters participating in election after election have an average age of 25 and this is true in the municipal cycles in particular.

There are very few “bungalow blocks” in Ward 6. Elections are decided by three precincts that are chock-a-block with large multiunit apartment buildings. We also have major institutional neighbors – Childrens Hospital just expanded into our ward by crossing over Chicago Ave to the west. Wells Fargo occupies the former Honeywell headquarters. Phillips Eye Institute is another significant presence. So is the Swedish “castle” I can see from my apartment window 14 stories up in one of the Ebenezer towers. From our 23rd floor dining area, I can see the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Childrens Theatre, and the College of Art and Design just across the freeway from us. There are also five large Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) highrises in Ward 6.

Not an easy mixture of public and private land use. We also have a sprinking of condos now and “Eat Street” on Nicollet Ave. And Kmart, smack in the middle of this major thoroughfare. We also have many first-generation immigrants, lots of Spanish-speaking neighbors, maybe three thousand of us seniors, and just ever so many young people who find Ward 6 a convenient place from which to begin their careers at the University and in the nearby business community. We also have far too many cars and a goodly stretch of the Midtown Greenway.

The winner in this Ward 6 election may turn out to be “”Anybody But Lilligren”. This is sad in a way because I think well of Robert, who has come from very modest beginnings to a position of considerable authority and prestige. But, you have to keep those home fires burning. Axing NRP didn’t help Robert’s cause and the advisory commission meant to service citizen input hereafter is not a credible solution in transition. There also seems to be some “whistling past the graveyard” in the matter of budgetary shortfalls and accordingly, I think the demise of the Board of Estimate and Taxation would be unwise, given the uneven performance of those who would steer our local ship of state.

So, back to the drawing board. Good thing we have RCV, because I have no clear idea about what will happen in Ward 6 or the other inner Wards that I’ve highlighted. But we are surely going to find out eventually, even if the counting takes a very long time.