Candidates vying to be Minneapolis’ next mayor will pitch their visions to party loyalists Saturday at the DFL convention, the first true test of campaign strength in what is already an unusual year for city politics.
Don’t expect the endorsing convention to whittle down the list of contenders in Minnesota’s only major race this year, however. With 60 percent support needed to snag the party nod, and five well-established political names jockeying for more than a thousand delegates, the chances of an endorsement are slim.
But it’s been an unpredictable campaign season — four council members have already failed to win their own party’s endorsement in ward conventions.
“I think anybody who goes in claiming they know what’s going to happen is going to be shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods,” former city DFL Chair Brian Melendez said.
Even without a clear winner, however, the ballot results will offer an early bellwether of each candidates’ strength. It was at this event 12 years ago that R.T. Rybak — who is not running for a fourth term — successfully blocked endorsement of the incumbent, Sharon Sayles Belton, and proved the power of his grass roots campaign.
If there is an endorsement, the field also may not change significantly; only Council Member Gary Schiff and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew have made a concrete pledge to abide by the party’s endorsement. But the winner will go into the general election with a cache of new volunteers, access to the party’s voter file and their name on a sample ballot mailed to thousands of likely voters.
Candidates receiving less than 10 percent of the vote will be dropped after the first ballot. After the third ballot, the number of candidates will be reduced to the two highest-ranked candidates. And if no candidate has reached 60 percent after five ballots, delegates can motion for no endorsement. Delegates could also vote right away to give no endorsement.
“It’s always unpredictable,” said DFL Chairman Dan McConnell.
Five of the six candidates vying for the nomination next week are current or former politicians. Another, Jim Thomas, is a special education teacher running a more low-profile campaign. Non-DFLers in the race so far include attorney Cam Winton, who is actively campaigning.
DFL candidates are highlighting several common themes as they head into the convention — expanding transit options, promoting job growth and ending racial gaps in education and employment.
In interviews, campaign events and debates across the city, candidates envision a city that is denser, greener and better-policed, a metropolis that adds immigrants and minorities into the political fold while cutting regulations and adding residents. Notably, improving academic achievement is also a focus of nearly every platform, though the mayor has little authority over the schools.
With 61 years of elected office among them, the five leading DFLers appear to largely support the existing vision of Rybak.
The city addressed a slew of financial troubles during Rybak’s decade in office, dramatically raising property taxes, paying off old debt, cutting city employees and rolling municipal pensions into the state system to save $20 million. Now, mayoral candidates are talking very little about how they’ll slash spending — instead focusing on how they’ll grow the tax base and add jobs.
While the candidates’ broader messages have more in common than not, differences emerge within the specifics of their platforms.
Schiff has called for an overhaul of the regulatory code; former council President Jackie Cherryhomes is advocating for a new position specifically focused on growing jobs and linking up employers with job training programs.
Andrew, an environmental consultant, thinks greening the city will attract loads of private investment, while Council Member Betsy Hodges says the health department should expand its services for children.
Council Member Don Samuels is pitching himself as the “education mayor” who would also meet personally with the handful of families who contribute to a disproportionate amount of the city’s crime. Winton is the only candidate opposing investments in streetcars.