Minneapolis school board race sets fundraising record

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2012 - 10:45 PM

In "a struggle for control" of the school board in Minneapolis, one candidate has raised seven times as much as his opponent.

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Josh Reimnitz, left, and Patty Wycoff

Josh Reimnitz has raised the financial bar for school board candidates in Minneapolis after he raised more than $37,000 in a hotly disputed contest that covers only one-sixth of the city.

That total raised just through Oct. 23 exceeds the previous record of $34,500 raised by Richard Mammen's 2010 campaign -- and that campaign was citywide. It's also seven times what's been raised by his opponent, Patty Wycoff, although that $5,230 has been supplemented by independent spending by the political arm of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

Wycoff, who ran far ahead of Reimnitz in the August primary for District 4, called his campaign haul "an insane amount of money." Even one of Reimnitz's supporters, former school board member Judy Farmer, called the fundraising total "outrageous." She gave $100.

Reimnitz and his supporters said he needed to raise a large amount because he's young, moved to the district in May and lacks Wycoff's long track record as a community volunteer. "We have a great candidate that people haven't heard of," supporter Lynnell Mickelsen said. "This is a struggle for control of the school board and control of how decisions are made."

The race pits a teacher union-backed candidate, Wycoff, against a former Teach for America worker who favors looser seniority rules and other contract changes.

Maximum contributions

Reimnitz tapped big-pocket donors with names like MacMillan, Ciresi and Whitney. Seventy-two of his itemized contributions, or nearly 60 percent, were at the maximum individual limit of $300, compared to three such individual contributions to Wycoff, campaign finance filings show. Almost half of his checks came from outside the city, drawing both on his North Dakota roots and suburban money. Edinans made 10 percent of his itemized contributions, trailed closely by Wayzata.

Reimnitz could raise several thousand more dollars by year's end for the dogfight in a district stretching from downtown to the Isles area.

Hotly contested

"I'm concerned that what we're setting up is that money rather than kids win," said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, a Wycoff supporter, former teacher and architect of the law that revamped the board with six seats filled by district and three citywide.

The Wycoff-Reimnitz race has been the mostly hotly contested of the four seats on the ballot next week.

Reimnitz was boosted by two major fundraisers in mid-October. One was hosted by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak at his home; the other was at the Edina home of Teach for America President Matthew Kramer and Katie Barrett Kramer, an official at Charter School Partners. Both groups are anathema to some unionized teachers.

Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren said the independent union spending for Wycoff came from voluntary contributions by teachers and was used for mailings and phone banks. Reimnitz has made three large mailings in the district, with a fourth targeted at downtown residences, where it is hard for candidates to gain access.

The escalation in school election spending can be seen by the growth from when Pam Costain raised $15,851 to win citywide in 2006, a record then. In an interview, Costain noted that Remnitz lacks the typical DFL backing that makes winning a board seat easier because of the party's sample ballot. He's also at a disadvantage to Wycoff's union support, she said.

"Josh has worked five times harder than I worked," said Costain, who's working on Reimnitz's campaign.

Determining stance

The district setup should have lowered the financial bar to gaining a board seat, but the District 4 contest has taken on added significance as crucial in determining how aggressive a stance the board will take in trying to change the federation's contract.

Reimnitz raised enough money to be able to return a contribution from one wealthy donor after his advisers suggested that broadcast magnate Stanley Hubbard was on the opposite side of issues from him. But the campaign kept two contributions by other Hubbard media executives.

Reimnitz said his big donor list reflects people who want changes in schools. "The old ways aren't working," he said. Reimnitz added that despite the big donations, "I'm my own candidate."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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