As mayoral contenders tried to answer a question about how they would address the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, the moderator of a campaign forum this week reminded them, “This is not ‘I’m going to give everybody two minutes and go down the line.’”
When everyone burst into laughter, Jackie Cherryhomes told the crowd, “We’re used to someone with a buzzer that says stop! Stop now!”
“You’re throwing us off our game here,” chimed in Council Member Betsy Hodges.
The event was hosted by the Theater of Public Policy, a group that performs improv comedy about political issues and spurred candidates on Wednesday evening to break a little more out of the talking points they have already recited at dozens of forums this year.
Tane Danger moderated the forum with six candidates at Bryant Lake Bowl, leading on-stage discussions with the aspiring mayors that offered rich material for the improv cast to parody. The actors poked fun at how Cherryhomes’ husband had skipped the forum to go to the Timberwolves game while Hodges proudly pointed out her husband was sitting in the audience, and lampooned a statement by Cam Winton, who deals with wind turbine maintenance, that in his field if you over-promise and under-deliver people can see it from miles away. Several sketches mocked Kmart’s blockage of Nicollet Avenue.
The highlight of the evening came when candidates were asked about the form of transportation they used to get to Bryant Lake Bowl. Minneapolis Park Commissioner Bob Fine stripped down to a Superman costume on stage, provoking roars of laughter while Hodges, sitting next to him, looked on in horror.
“He is the commissioner!” said Danger. “He is the commissioner!”
When the reaction subsided, Fine took a serious turn, saying, “I certainly didn’t come here by streetcar, because we can’t afford it.” He was referring to a matter that has become a staple of candidate discussions: whether to back the proposed Nicollet-Central streetcar.
In between the high fives, jokes, and Superman hullabaloo, participants had some robust discussions about the most important issues facing Minneapolis.
During a discussion on subsidies, Cherryhomes acknowledged that the city’s investment in the now ailing Block E while she was City Council president in the 1990s was a mistake.
“Bad idea,” she said. “I own it. It was on my dime. I think we all made the best decision we could make at the time with the information we had, but I think we tried to fit a square peg in a round hole … . You learn from it, you move on.”
The crowd applauded when Winton said he wished more leaders “had the guts” to say they had screwed something up and had learned from it.
After saying that the city has been too lavish with subsidies in the past, Council Member Don Samuels tried to prove his fiscal responsibility by telling the audience that he was the candidate “who has the best dollar value for their popularity.” He tied for first place in a September poll by the Star Tribune and was heavily outspent by three other candidates.
During a heated discussion on how to resolve the year-long orchestra lockout, Winton reiterated his view that if management and labor cannot come to an agreement, the Orchestra Hall should be repurposed to help the needy. The facility received state funding for a recent renovation.
Cherryhomes called him out, saying, “Let’s be real … it’s not that easy. The city doesn’t own the building.” She said there are entanglements with other entities that would prevent that.
The candidates generally did agree that the city must use its leverage to force a resolution, given that the facility has received public money.
Sitting somewhat awkwardly in his costume for the rest of the evening, Fine made a campaign stumble when the candidates were asked if they had seen any homeless people recently. He said had seen them as he flew over the city.
As the evening wound down, Hodges pointed out, “We have been sitting here talking about very serious issues and Bob Fine is dressed like Superman.”
“You don’t know what I have on,” software executive Stephanie Woodruff piped in.