Minneapolis mayoral candidate Dan Cohen – blunt as ever – back on the scene

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2013 - 9:47 AM

He wants to bring casino to downtown and end Vikings stadium deal.


City politics were scrappier when Dan Cohen last ran for mayor of Minneapolis.

Then the City Council’s young, ambitious president, he traded daily barbs in 1969 with police detective Charlie Stenvig on the campaign trail. Stenvig accused hoodlums of dictating City Hall policies. Cohen said Stenvig’s agenda could lead to a police state. Stenvig supporters slapped bumper stickers over Cohen’s face on billboards.

Forty-four years later, Cohen is back for more — but he’s learned some lessons. “You’re not going to see any picture of me on my billboards,” he said.

Cohen has proved to be an unlikely player in the 2013 race, winning early name recognition among 35 candidates by pouring a personal fortune into radio and television advertising. He’s hoping that fierce opposition to the Vikings stadium deal and the promise of a downtown casino will bring him a political revival this fall.

He strikes a jovial tone in private company, but Cohen is still known for his blunt style, often relating the Vikings stadium troubles to a “script from the Sopranos.”

“There’s no holding back with Dan Cohen,” said former mayor Al Hofstede. “What you see is what you hear and what you get.”

After being soundly defeated by Stenvig in 1969, Cohen never quite disappeared from the scene. He served a four-year term on the city planning commission in the 1970s, then worked in public relations and advertising in the 1980s.

In 1982, he squared off unsuccessfully against Mark Andrew in a primary for Hennepin County Commissioner.

He has written about 20 books, including a biography of Hubert Humphrey and several children’s titles, such as “The Case of the Runaway Rabbit.”

Educated at Stanford and Harvard Law School, Cohen’s nonpolitical pastimes include owning thoroughbred horses. He and his wife now have two horses, neither of which is racing.

“I don’t recommend it to anyone as a great source of income,” Cohen said.

Cohen successfully sued the Star Tribune in the 1980s for revealing him as the source of a tip about the criminal past of a lieutenant governor candidate. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.

He wrote a book about the case in 2005. He retired in 1991, but in recent years was appointed to the city’s charter and planning commissions.

‘The spirit moved me’

His politics have also evolved. Cohen identified as a Republican for much of his political career, but said he grew uncomfortable as the party became more interested in social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Now an independent, Cohen says he is a fiscal conservative and a social liberal.

He’s not a Democrat, though, saying their solution to all financial problems is to raise taxes.

But why would a 77-year-old spend $285,000 — much of which Cohen says came from the Star Tribune judgment — on the campaign rather than enjoy a more comfortable retirement? His response speaks to his shoot-from-the-hip style.

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