Betsy Hodges had a solid lead among first-choice Minneapolis voters for mayor Tuesday night. But the celebration within the Hodges camp was reportedly muted. Clearly, supporters of the Minneapolis City Council member understood one key feature of ranked choice voting (RCV): A first-choice leader won't necessarily prevail -- not unless a large share of the second-choice votes of people who chose losing candidates for first place break her way.
The question that's undoubtedly nagging her campaign strategists while they wait for RCV ballot sorting to proceed: Did Hodges do enough to ask for second-choice support?
Former Hennepin County commissioner Mark Andrew, who was in second place among first-choice votes, and his backers had to be engaged in similar second-guessing. Might more have been done to forge alliances with other candidates in the quest for second-place choices? Should groups of candidates have become a de facto team, as seven lesser-known candidates attempted to do?
This was the second Minneapolis election to employ RCV. But candidates often seemed unsure of how to respond to its limitations and opportunities. They understood that attacking their rivals could be self-defeating, but they struggled to deliver distinctive messages without going negative. Many were slow to openly seek second-choice support. With 35 candidates on the ballot, forging alliances with other candidates was an obvious option that few exercised.
If Hodges' lead is confirmed as a win on Wednesday when the RCV second-choice sorting is done, she and her team will be hailed as masters of the new system -- and in demand to show future candidates how it's done.
Tuesday's debut of MNsure, the state's online health insurance exchange, is giving Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner James Schowalter a mild case of jitters -- or so it seemed when we chatted Monday about the new insurance marketplace he headed in its early stages.
Schowalter turned over MNsure's reins to an appointed board of directors in mid-August. But it was his baby long enough for him to be mindful of the pains associated with the birth of a large government undertaking.
Social Security's start in the mid-1930s, Medicare and Medicaid's beginning 30 years later, and the rollout of Medicare Part D for prescription drug coverage in 2006 all initially created confusion and some frustration for the people they aimed to help. "That’s the path of change. It takes a while for people to understand new systems," Schowalter said.
The saving grace for MNsure could be that "Minnesotans, in their hearts, are really patient and understanding. Within a few days of us getting started, people will find that health care will still be delivered, sick people will still get treated, and the health insurance market has expanded in a way that is good for everybody. We’ll sort it out."
The tightening labor market in Minnesota may tamp down any employers' impulse to use MNsure's arrival as an excuse for dropping health insurance from employee benefit packages, Schowalter added. Minnesota's 5.1 percent unemployment rate in August was the 10th lowest among the 50 states.
"Businesses are competing for talent right now. They'd have to think twice" before eliminating health insurance benefits for employees.
Businesses may find that MNsure is their ally, he said. It will allow small employers to offer their employees more options, while restraining costs for larger employers, who now pay an added premium for uncompensated health care for the uninsured.
Two months before President John Kennedy went to Dallas in November 1963, he had a pleasant overnight stay in Duluth. Next Tuesday, the 50th anniversary of a trip made precious in memory by the assassination two months later will be marked in a variety of ways in Duluth and remembered by other Minnesotans connected to that event.
One of those Minnesotans is Jack Puterbaugh of Minneapolis. Fifty years ago, he was a young staffer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working for then-Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, a former Minnesota governor. He was also an occasional advance man for trips by President Kennedy. That brought him to Duluth a few days before Kennedy's scheduled appearance at the Land and People's Conference, a multi-state meeting about natural resources sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And that brought him in touch with Sister Constantina of the College of St. Scholastica and her stained glass art. They're central to the story he shared with me last week.
Before he could even say hello to the event organizer in the host city on Sept. 20, future federal appellate Judge Gerald Heaney, Heaney announced, "The thing with the nun is out."
What thing? Sister Constantina Kakonyi of the St. Scholastica faculty, a Cold War exile from her native Hungary, had created a hammered copper and stained glass work of art to present to President Kennedy. Called "Northeastern Minnesota -- Strong and Beautiful," it includes five images in an oblong panel. She had made it for this conference as a gift to the president.
Heaney said Kennedy's policy was not to accept any artifacts as gifts.
Puterbaugh visited St. Scholastica, met the artist, saw the stunning work, and went back to Heaney. "It's really good, and we can't do this to the sister. We have to think of something," he said.
Several argument rounds later, the art was back in the program. Freeman would accept it on behalf of the president. But that plan was foiled when the band at the event struck up "Hail to the Chief" out of turn. The presentation had been inadvertantly skipped.
Back in Washington, Puterbaugh prevailed on the White House to send Sister Constantina its apology, which it did, with a photo of the president that Kennedy inscribed to her. He tried to get her work hung in the Department of Agriculture, without success. Instead, it hangs today at the St. Scholastica library, where it's bound to receive a little extra attention next week on the might-have-been anniversary of its presentation to a president.
Two months later, Puterbaugh was again an advance man for Kennedy. He was in the motorcade on Nov. 22, and saw the mortally wounded Kennedy carried into Parkland Hospital.
He wasn't as eager to share that story. I can understand why.
Photo: “Northeastern Minnesota – Strong and Beautiful,” by Sister Constantina Kakonyi, 1963.
A woman 20th-century Minnesotans knew as Mrs. Walter Judd, the Minneapolis congressman's wife, emerges in a revealing new book as Miriam Barber Judd, a person of talent, faith, passion and the unfulfilled potential that was once the customary consignment of wives of famous men.
The book is "Miriam's Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life," and the author is Miriam herself, in letters compiled by her eldest daughter, Mary Lou Judd Carpenter of Minneapolis.
Carpenter deserves credit for an honest compilation that includes the lows as well as the highs in her parents' lives. The book will nicely contribute to history's understanding of Walter Judd's public career, including his service in the U.S. House from 1942 to 1962. But I believe the book's greater value lies in the vivid, at times painful picture it paints of restrictive mid-20th century gender roles and expectations of political wives.
Miriam Judd dutifully but not always joyfully followed her husband as his career as a medical missionary-cum-politician took her first to China, then Minneapolis and finally Washington D.C. She struggled to cope with his long absenses and inattention. She found an outlet for her own abilities in church and volunteer work, including a number of leadership posts in the YWCA.
One cannot read her letters without admiring her resilience and goodness -- and without wondering what heights Miriam Barber Judd might have climbed if she had been born 50 years later.
Babak Armajani, whom everybody called Armi, had big ideas about what government could do. The former Minnsota revenue official and government consultant died unexpectedly on June 3, at age 67. Missing him was all the more reason to go forward with one of his big ideas, reasoned his colleagues at St. Paul-based Public Strategies Group (PSG), which he co-founded.
Armi wanted PSG to initiate an international awards program for government efforts to solve big, seemingly intractable problems. The winners would receive a free week of intensive PSG consulting services, which otherwise might cost upwards of $100,000.
The result is an award called "Catapult!" The first three winners were announced this week. The big thinking they entail would be right up Armi's alley. They aim to:
"We got a great response," said PSG chief operating officer Jeff Zlonis. "Armi's idea was to encourage people to do really innovative, public-purpose change initiatives that produce measurably better outcomes and that improve people's lives. It couldn't be small stuff."
I asked whether Catapult! received any proposals from Minnesota. No, Zlonis said. About that, I think Armi would shrug in disappointment, and I'd console him with the biblical line about prophets lacking honor in their own country.
Minneapolis is so DFL-dominated that it’s often called a one-party town. That fact made curious Wednesday morning’s assemblage on City Hall’s south side, under the stony smile of DFL founder Hubert Humphrey’s statue. DFL officials gathered with four of their party’s officially anointed candidates for City Council to tout them and trumpet the value of DFL endorsement.
One might conclude that the 1,000-pound gorilla in Minneapolis politics is a nervous beast this year.
Three of the four candidates in attendance – Jacob Frey in Ward 3, Abdi Warsame in Ward 6, and Lisa Peterson Bender in Ward 10 -- are challenging sitting incumbents who failed to win their party’s blessing for another term. Also present were Alondra Cano, one of six candidates for an open seat in Ward 9, and a relative representing Ward 13 candidate Linea Palmisano, who has four rivals for another open seat.
They all praised the advantages that DFL endorsement will bring them in volunteers, money and mention on the legendary DFL sample ballot. But I doubt they would not have summoned reporters to City Hall on the day after the candidate filing period closed if they thought those advantages were sufficient to assure victory on Nov. 5.
A major challenge for Minneapolis candidates this year will be name recognition. Ranked choice voting worked as its advocates predicted, attracting the “vitality” of dozens of new candidates. Thirty-five names stood on the mayoral list alone on Wednesday morning.
Discerning who’s who will be a challenge for voters. Asking the DFL endorsees Wednesday for help in seeing the differences that separate them from their competition did not elicit sharp contrasts. They spoke of “new blood” and “honoring the endorsement process,” and said they support more diversity and population density in the city. To some degree, so do their major rivals. Voters – and journalists – will need to press for more specificity to better understand the choices this election presents.