The biggest potential political shake-up in a decade steamed toward Minneapolis City Hall on Saturday, as a fourth City Council member failed to capture DFL endorsement for re-election.
Attorney Jacob Frey easily snagged the Ward 3 nod Saturday, after Diane Hofstede bowed out before the first ballot, calling the endorsement process “flawed.” Hofstede, who plans to run in the November election, is the fourth council member who has left their local DFL convention without an endorsement in recent weeks. Her ward covers much of the central riverfront, including parts of downtown and northeast.
If the voters follow suit and send the four incumbents packing in November, a very different council will be shaping budgets, mulling development projects and changing regulations alongside a new mayor in 2014. Another three of the 13 council seats are open because their occupants are running for mayor.
Four DFL incumbents already have won endorsements, one is unopposed and the final ward is represented by a member of the Green Party.
“I don’t ever remember a time where people got denied the endorsement like this,” said Brian Melendez, a former state DFL chair and city DFL chair from 1999 to 2005. The last major turnover on the council occurred in 2001, when seven new members were chosen in the same election that swept Mayor R.T. Rybak into office.
New ward boundaries have played a key role in energizing immigrants and younger activists, who have donned campaign T-shirts and buttons and packed school auditoriums to support fresh candidates. The council’s support for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium and voter desire for more transit have also motivated newcomers.
The party’s endorsement comes with volunteers to help distribute literature, access to the party’s voter file and your name on a sample ballot that is mailed to thousands of likely voters before the election.
‘Value to our endorsements’
Running against an endorsed DFL candidate is discouraged by the party, but incumbents Robert Lilligren, Hofstede and possibly Meg Tuthill are moving forward against endorsed challengers nonetheless. Ward 12, represented by Sandy Colvin Roy, offered no endorsement last week, and she remains in the race.
“We need to show that there’s value to our endorsements. And that there’s value to abiding by the endorsement,” state chair Ken Martin said earlier this week, noting that Minneapolis’ races are the only big elections occurring this year. “And that means that we will do everything in our power to help those DFL candidates who have received our endorsement.”
Tuthill said during the convention that she would suspend her campaign if she lost the endorsement, but then she questioned the meaning of the word “suspend” after the party endorsed Lisa Bender. She did not return a call last week seeking comment. Questioned after a committee meeting Thursday, Tuthill said she would not talk politics in City Hall.
Hofstede had made several pledges to political groups and news outlets to abide by the party’s endorsement, but she said Saturday she plans to “take my campaign to the people and let them decide.”
She announced her withdrawal to an auditorium at DeLaSalle High School flooded with red Jacob Frey campaign shirts. Frey campaign staff estimated that more than 70 percent of the delegates were their supporters.
“The process has become flawed,” Hofstede told the crowd. “Older residents and our new Americans have been discouraged and sometimes disrespected while trying to participate in the endorsement process.”
Two delegate challenges, one from each campaign’s supporters, were filed but never came to the floor because the convention did not get that far, city DFL chair Dan McConnell said.
“This process has been legitimate,” Frey told a crowd of cheering supporters. “It has not been flawed in any way.”
After the convention, Hofstede said in an interview that several precincts had “problems communicating the process to people who wanted to be engaged,” particularly members of the city’s East African community. She later added that some people were recorded as alternates — a backup delegate — who wanted to be regular delegates.
In one precinct with a large East African population, however, nearly 40 people were elected delegates from one address inhabited largely by East African residents, McConnell said. A reporter in attendance on caucus night witnessed some initial confusion that caused many East Africans to volunteer as alternates, but the process was later repeated. One of the attendees helped translate proceedings into Somali.
About 10 of the precinct’s 30 listed alternates appeared to be East African, McConnell said. Mohamed Barre, who was coordinating some of the East Africans in the precinct that night, said there were challenges understanding the process. “We did not want to be alternates as long as we could have more delegates,” Barre said.
‘A different playbook’
Veterans of city politics, interviewed before the Ward 3 convention, could not recall another time when this many council incumbents had lost endorsements.
“I don’t remember anything like this, no,” said John Derus, a Frey supporter who served on the council in the 1970s and spent 17 years on the Hennepin County Board. “Usually the incumbent, with rare exceptions, is endorsed by the party.”
Rick Stafford, a DFL veteran who chaired Tuthill’s ward convention, agreed that the results so far have been abnormal. “But we’ll see if that transcends into anything when the general election is held,” Stafford said.
Former City Council Member Lisa McDonald lost the endorsement to her challenger in 1997 but ran anyway. She won re-election. In an interview, she observed that good constituent services and name recognition can go a long way for an incumbent, even without the DFL endorsement.
“Generally it’s an older, more established crowd that votes frequently,” McDonald said. “So it’s a different playbook when you get out into a general election.”
One added wrinkle is how ranked-choice voting will affect the election. It’s the city’s first major test of the method, which eliminates the primary election but considers voters’ second and third choices in naming a winner. With the ability to rank several candidates, voters may feel less obligated to make the DFL-endorsee their top choice.
Also Saturday, Council Members Barb Johnson and Kevin Reich won the DFL endorsement at their respective conventions. Incumbents Lisa Goodman and John Quincy have also been endorsed.