After several Minneapolis mayoral candidates at last Wednesday's debate criticized a proposal to burn more garbage at the Hennepin County incinerator, Jackie Cherryhomes stepped in with a different view.
“I support the plan,” she said, adding that the county has increased its recycling. “The fact of the matter is, everybody knows you’ve got stuff that you can’t get rid of, and it’s got to go somewhere.”
There was just one detail Cherryhomes left out: until a month ago, she was a registered lobbyist for Covanta Energy, the company that runs the incinerator.
“I didn’t feel that it was necessary to mention it in that context,” she said, when questioned later about the omission.
After leaving office as City Council president at the end of 2001, Cherryhomes transformed her deep knowledge of municipal government and Minneapolis into a business lobbying and consulting for companies and nonprofits. She ended her registration as a lobbyist for Covanta on March 1, after two years, and has said she will not lobby City Hall during the campaign.
Since 2009, New Jersey-based Covanta and Hennepin County have tried to win approval from the city to allow the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center to operate at full capacity. The facility currently operates at 90 percent and burns enough garbage to supply electricity for 25,000 homes a year. Some Minneapolis officials are concerned the plan would worsen air pollution.
Asked if her lobbying work had involved the incinerator, Cherryhomes said, “My job with Covanta has been more involved around the issue of community organizing and connecting them to the community… I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with the incinerator. I was organizing so they had a better corporate community presence, connecting them to some churches, connecting them to Insight newspaper, connecting them to community people.”
She said she had never lobbied City Council in connection with Covanta.
“Covanta Hennepin, operator of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, has worked with Jackie Cherryhomes on a number of community outreach programs in Minneapolis,” said Covanta spokesman James Regan in an email late Monday. “Covanta values Ms. Cherryhomes’ experience and knowledge of the Minneapolis community.”
Covanta has five other registered lobbyists in Minnesota, including former Minneapolis Mayor Al Hofstede.
Referring to other candidates' references to harmful emissions from the incinerator, Cherryhomes said during last week's forum at Solomon's Porch that she would love to see some of those studies because it was not her understanding of the latest research on the center.
Independent Cam Winton took a shot at Covanta without naming it, saying it was insulting that the company operating the energy recovery center had not done an environmental impact study before asking to increase the facility's capacity.
"As mayor, I'd go tell them to pound sand," he told the crowd.
Later, Winton said he had no idea one of his six opponents in the race had worked for Covanta.
"I did not know that," he said, "and that’s even more interesting than I thought."