A mayoral debate this week took a “Secret Santa” turn when candidates selected each other’s names at random to ask them one question.

Many of the questions were fairly tame. Don Samuels drew laughs when he asked Stephanie Woodruff, “Why do you like me so much?”

Perhaps it was fate, then, that the two front-runners who have shown the most animosity toward each other, Betsy Hodges and Mark Andrew, picked the other’s names.

Hodges asked Andrew why he supports a subsidized convention center hotel, adding that, “You once said I have the ‘disease of small vision’ for supporting a staged private plan to fund 1,000 hotel rooms around the convention center.”

Andrew said that the “vision” comment was in a “broader context.” He said the convention center hotel is part of an overall strategy to make the city more attractive for convention and tourism business.

The audience burst out into laughter when Andrew announced that he had picked Hodges. “I’ll trade in my Hodges if I can get Woodruff to let me ask Cam [Winton] a question,” he said. Winton is Andrew’s loudest critic among the top candidates.

He then asked Hodges to name her three most important initiatives while on the City Council. “Pretty easy,” he noted. Hodges responded with pension reform, work on the city budget and requiring recycling at events.

Chants and drums

The sounds opened a mayoral forum Thursday evening at an American Indian art gallery, where the gaggle of candidates criticized Columbus Day and promised to include local tribes in their decisionmaking, if elected.

The event was a first for some of the candidates, who acknowledged that they had little interaction with the American Indian community.

“I’m a lesbian, so I know what it feels like to be an underdog and always be fighting for civil rights,” Woodruff, a first-time political candidate, said in an effort to connect with the audience.

Musical chairs, tears

For at least the second time in recent weeks, candidate Merrill Anderson interrupted the forum seeking to be seated with other candidates who had been invited. To the cheers of supporters, he assumed the seat left empty by Andrew, who did not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

That absence created another interruption, when Winton publicly grilled a young representative — who was sent by Andrew to give opening remarks — about the candidate’s whereabouts. The emissary, who told Winton to check with the communications office, then apologized to Andrew on Twitter for “fumbling” the question, and Andrew said in an interview the following day that Winton’s remarks had brought his staffer to tears.

Speed dating?

While candidates generally pronounced support for no gaming without Indian tribes, Dan Cohen called for a downtown casino and said one tribal casino in Mystic Lake does not solve the issue of providing jobs for Indians in Minneapolis. Following Cohen, Jackie Cherryhomes received a round of applause when she vowed never to support a downtown casino. As eight candidates whizzed through their talking points, one questioner from the audience joked that it was like mayoral speed dating.