Minneapolis DFL activists dealt a blow to City Hall leadership Saturday afternoon, leaving three City Council members without their own party's endorsement at separate conventions across the city.
Growing minority populations, redrawn districts and council policy played a major role in the day's events, which could have significant ramifications for the election.
In Uptown, Council Member Meg Tuthill finished the day unsure whether to continue her campaign after losing the 10th Ward nod to urban planner Lisa Bender. Council Member Robert Lilligren, who represents neighborhoods surrounding Franklin Avenue, bowed out of consideration for the endorsement in the Sixth Ward early Saturday, saying the process was not conducted appropriately, even as it became clear he lacked enough support. His challenger, Abdi Warsame, won after galvanizing voters among the ward's large East African population.
Delegates offered no endorsement in the 12th Ward race between Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy and challenger Andrew Johnson.
The Uptown convention may prove to be the most decisive, since Tuthill pledged during the proceedings to suspend her campaign if someone else took the endorsement. When Bender won after five ballots, however, Tuthill questioned what "suspend" really meant. "It didn't say for how long, it didn't say permanently, it didn't say for 20 minutes, it didn't say for four years," Tuthill said. "I don't know."
"I'm not doing anything right now but planning to get the hell out of town," Tuthill added, referring to upcoming vacation plans. "I have no plans to pick up a campaign, to end a campaign, I have no plans to do anything right now."
Bender said she had interpreted the pledge, which came during a question-and-answer session, to mean Tuthill would support the winner. "People want a change of leadership and that's what we saw here today," Bender said.
Lilligren told a room crammed with delegates and political volunteers at St. Mary's University Center Saturday that he had no confidence that the party's Sixth Ward convention would "produce a fair outcome." He said he still plans to run in November to retain his seat.
The 11-year incumbent said he has concerns about irregularities in the April 16 precinct caucuses. Supporters backing him and another council candidate, Mohamed Cali, have filed challenges with the DFL in recent days alleging that supporters of their opponent, Abdi Warsame, intimidated caucusgoers who sided with other candidates and took too much control over the events.
In a speech, Warsame said the only intimidating thing about his campaign was the sheer number of supporters flooding caucuses.
The crowd Saturday was largely East African, and many were immigrants participating in their first party convention. Though DFL and campaign volunteers praised the attendees' enthusiasm and dedication, they said the process of getting delegates signed in was lengthy and disorganized. One man complained to a party volunteer that the proceedings were a "nightmare."
Shale Jama, wearing a pin for Warsame, said in Somali that he had come to the convention excited to be a delegate, but was told his name was not on the list. "It's something that was not planned well and I am just as frustrated as anyone else," he said through an interpreter.
Happy Reynolds, a delegate for Lilligren, also voiced frustration with the disorder at the convention but said of Warsame's campaign, "They have a much better grass-roots organization — people can't argue with that and you can't be disrespectful of that."
A series of challenges to the process drew out the convention, which lasted about eight hours. The crowd erupted after Warsame's victory at 5 p.m., waving American flags and hugging one another.
Bender and second-place challenger Kendal Killian had clearly spent a lot of work organizing delegates for their effort to unseat Tuthill. Their supporters were plentiful in the halls of Jefferson Elementary School, wearing red and green campaign T-shirts.
Strong turnout from some new areas of the ward, including the Whittier neighborhood, appeared to work against Tuthill. Bender took the endorsement after five ballots, when Killian dropped out and supported her bid.
Some delegates said they wanted someone who would better represent minority populations and renters. Others highlighted Tuthill's efforts to impose tighter restrictions on outdoor bar patios, adding that they wanted someone more open to new business ideas.
Bender delegate Janet Polli said improving biking infrastructure and multimodal transportation are among her top issues. "Lisa's experience just seemed like a really good fit for that vision of the city," Polli said of Bender, who founded the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
The lack of an endorsement in Colvin Roy's southeast ward was also unusual.
Andrew Johnson, president of the Longfellow Community Council, was ahead of Colvin Roy on every ballot until the convention decided not to endorse. "I think a lot of people are really upset that our right to vote was taken away on stadium funding," Johnson said of Colvin Roy's support for the Vikings stadium bill, which bypassed a charter mandate to hold a public referendum. "The spirit of the charter was violated. That is not OK."
Colvin Roy could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
Two other City Council members, Lisa Goodman and John Quincy, were endorsed at conventions without opposition.