Updated at 10:38 p.m.
Defying predictions of a tight Minneapolis mayoral race, Council Member Betsy Hodges posted a lead so commanding Tuesday night that her closest opponent Mark Andrew all but conceded.
Hodges won more than 36 percent of first-choice votes in the race, which used ranked choice voting. That was more than 11 points ahead of Andrew. The final results won’t be known until second- and third-choice votes are tabulated Wednesday, but Andrew’s deficit will be hard to overcome.
Thirty-five candidates were vying to succeed outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak, who announced last year he would not run for a fourth term.
The result was a blow to the DFL establishment and municipal employee unions, which overwhelmingly supported Andrew’s campaign. Andrew and an affiliated group far outspent Hodges, flooding homes with direct mail and running ads on cable TV. Hodges sent few mailers and never went on the air.
“She’s going to be an excellent mayor and I look forward to working with her as the years go by,” Andrew, a former Hennepin County Commissioner, said at an election party in the Graves Hotel. He added he could not formally concede until the rest of the votes were counted.
Few expected the first round to break so definitively for one candidate. “No one kind of saw this kind of spread happening,” said Jeanne Massey, with FairVote Minnesota, who added that Andrew still had a mathmatical chance of winning.
Massey said while it's not mathmatically impossible for Andrew to win, he would have to pick up the overwhelming number of the second-choice votes from supporters of Samuels and Cam Winton.
While the total number of second- and third-choice votes for each candidate was known Tuesday night, it will only be factored for voters' whose first-choice candidate drops out of the running in a series of elimination rounds. A candidate must surpass 50 percent of the vote to win.
The result likely reflects Hodges' volunteer effort, which turned out more first-choice voters despite stiff opposition from Andrew's better-funded, union-backed campaign. Turnout in the race was estimate to be close to 40 percent on Tuesdsay evening.
The race was hard to predict heading into Election Day, largely because of a lack of polling. The one poll, commissioned by the Star Tribune in September, showed Dan Cohen and Don Samuels ahead of the pack.
Hodges has served on the City Council since 2005, where she is now budget chair. Prior to joining the council, Hodges worked for Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman and the Minnesota Justice Foundation. She cut her teeth in local politics as an activist with Progressive Minnesota, now TakeAction Minnesota.
She is a close ally of Rybak, who did not offer his endorsement in the race. Three of Rybak's staffers volunteered for Hodges' campaign.
Andrew said on Tuesday night that he did not think it would be "possible for me to come back" in subsequent rounds.
"I think it’s pretty clear what the trend is, and I’m feeling that my role is to help make a smooth transition into a new administration and to be as supportive of mayor-elect Hodges as I can possibly be," Andrew said.
As far as his future, he said he’s glad he doesn’t have to close the doors of his company, adding it’s “an upside to a sad day.”
He still plans to watch the results come in: “We’re going to have to watch that, but I think it’s too big of a burden to overcome”.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.
Photo: Jerry Holt / Star Tribune