Two generations of city politics are increasingly driving the race for mayor of Minneapolis, which has pitted many in the traditional DFL establishment against a coalition of City Hall’s current occupants.
Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew is picking up more high-profile endorsements than anyone, drawing on old connections to win over politicos who’ve carried the party torch the past several decades.
Meanwhile, City Council budget chair Betsy Hodges has attracted key support from her vocal colleague Gary Schiff, who left the race last week, along with three staffers for Mayor R.T. Rybak, who has been neutral.
The rivals are billing themselves as candidates of the future and their opponent as more of the same. Andrew, who left 16 years of elected office in 1999, calls himself an “insurgent” taking on City Hall. Hodges, elected in 2005, used her speech at the DFL convention to take a veiled shot at Andrew and the policies of the 1990s, particularly corporate handouts.
A week after the DFL failed to endorse anyone for the seat being vacated by Rybak, Andrew and Hodges have emerged as the top two contenders for the seat, though it is still an unpredictable race. Nine people are running — including three non-DFLers — and there is no primary because of ranked choice voting.
Most members of the City Council have remained quiet about who they are supporting for mayor, but Schiff has become one of Hodges’ loudest supporters in recent days (Council Member John Quincy has also endorsed Hodges). And some of Rybak’s aides could be seen racing around the DFL convention earlier this month helping Hodges as she went head to head with Andrew for endorsement, one leading a crucial, late-night floor debate.
At the May Day parade this year, Hodges supporters even mimicked a signature Rybak move — holding a giant arrow pointing to their candidate. Carol Becker, a member of the board of estimate and taxation, said she felt a “weird kind of déjà vu” as she walked in front of the Hodges contingent, hearing Rybak policy aide Peter Wagenius yell “the next mayor of Minneapolis!”
The public list of supporters for Andrew, who was also a onetime state DFL chairman, is a who’s who of current and former politicians, including 11 state representatives and senators, seven school board members, four park commissioners, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and longtime County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
When a reporter called late last week, Andrew was walking into a meeting with former Vice President Walter Mondale; he later declined to say what they had discussed.
Hodges’ list of supporters includes a handful of elected officials, but it is much shorter.
Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26, which has endorsed Hodges, said many of Andrew’s high-profile supporters have been Rybak opponents.
McLaughlin, for instance, ran against Rybak in 2005. Another Andrew backer, former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, competed with Rybak for the party nod in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
“It’s the folks who, frankly, to put it bluntly, R.T. Rybak ran against and who opposed Rybak every time he’s run for re-election or when he ran for governor,” Morillo-Alicea said.
Longtime DFL insider Brian Rice, an attorney helping Andrew, fought City Hall on behalf of the pension funds he was representing when Hodges led the fight to merge them with the state retirement system. Hodges alluded critically to him and others in her convention speech.
To be sure, others tied to Rybak have endorsed Andrew, such as Tina Flint Smith, the mayor’s former chief of staff who now does the same job for Gov. Mark Dayton. And then there’s attorney and political fundraiser Sam Kaplan, who was instrumental in raising the campaign cash to get Rybak elected and now supports Andrew. McLaughlin bristled at the “old guard” suggestion.
“Is MyDFL old guard? Is Stonewall old guard? I don’t think so,” McLaughlin said, referring to groups representing young and gay voters. “He’s endorsed by both of them.”
Andrew and his supporters have started saying he would bring “fresh eyes” to City Hall, a line frequently invoked by independent mayoral candidate Cam Winton — who has never held office.
The divide between new and old reared up on social media last week when young Andrew supporters started using a #newguard hashtag on Twitter to pronounce their support. That provoked a few curt responses. One man tweeted back using a hashtag referencing The Who lyrics, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” while another insisted that Hodges is the “new guard.”
The last time a Minneapolis mayor’s race had no incumbent was 1993, when Mayor Don Fraser was to leave office after 14 years.
Andrew told a forum this spring that at the time, when he was county commissioner, he spoke with fellow commissioner McLaughlin and Sharon Sayles Belton, a Minneapolis council member, about which of them wanted to run for mayor someday. Sayles Belton ran and won (she now supports candidate Jackie Cherryhomes). McLaughlin ran and lost in 2005.
Hodges supporters home in on this anecdote as an example that Andrew’s bid was scripted long ago.
After leaving office in 1999, Andrew went into the private sector and eventually started his own green consulting firm. He said thoughts of a mayoral run dropped off his radar for some years — until Rybak announced he wouldn’t run for office again.
Andrew now describes himself as Rybak’s “philosophical soul mate.” But Schiff says Andrew’s policies would be a departure from the Rybak administration.
“In part, this is why I left the race — to not divide progressives and to make it more clear that there is a strong contrast between the past and our future on the ballot this November,” said Schiff.The sudden alliance at City Hall has surprised some.
“You have this kind of really weird bedfellow between two people who’ve really been on opposite sides,” said Becker. “Gary has been sort of the bomb thrower on a lot of different issues at the city against Rybak. So now he’s coalitioning with Betsy, who’s really tight with R.T. It’s really weird.” Maya Rao • 612-673-4210