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Cam Winton has brought a no-nonsense style to the Minneapolis mayoral race.
At debates, he needles the other candidates, often calling them out for changing their stance in front of different audiences. “This is not a Minnesota Nice debate,” the moderator declared after he zinged a rival recently.
At his news conferences, he uses catchy props to get his ideas across and doesn’t hesitate to criticize city policies. He has stood in a pothole, ridden in a rented garbage truck and even used a tortoise and a pair of hares to make a point about city zoning and development regulation.
Winton’s strategy is to set himself apart in the crowded field as a fresh face who hasn’t held public office. He says his remarks are meant to cut through what he describes as a fluff of self-congratulation in the city to focus attention on where it falls short.
“I have found it necessary to speak very plainly,” said Winton, 34, an attorney whose Fulton area household includes his wife, also a lawyer, two toddlers and a rambunctious Goldendoodle.
Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, he comes to the race as a Democrat-turned-Republican who’s running as an independent, fiscally restrained but socially moderate on such issues as marriage equality and global warming.
“In this race, I’m the outsider,” he said in an interview. “I wasn’t born here but I got here as soon as I could. I love this city.”
His platform keys on three priorities: growing jobs by easing red tape at City Hall to make doing business easier, pushing for better school results, and focusing on doing basic city services better. He said he’d make getting part of his salary dependent on making progress on those priorities.
That streetcar plan that’s rolling down the track? He’d derail it for bus improvements. The city’s marketing campaign for its tap water? Not in a Winton administration. Most business licenses? Building permits for small projects? He’d junk them.
But his ideas — including longer school days and school year and improving roads via more paving — have hefty price tags. Winton said he’d offset this largely by savings from consolidating back-office operations with Hennepin County in such areas as personnel, technology, finance and procurement.
The city’s last Republican mayor left office in 1961. David Schultz, a Hamline professor and political analyst, said Winton needs a perfect storm to win. His DFL opponents need to chew up each other and he has to augment his conservative base with enough DFLers willing to award him their second- or third-place votes. “I think he needs to have everything come together,” Schultz said.
Shaped by African trip
Asked how he’d approach City Hall if elected, Winton hearkens to the summer between his first two years of law school, when he worked in Botswana on an AIDS drug distribution program.
Living in southern Africa, Winton saw countries where the privileged lived behind walls topped with barbed wire, while many lived in squalor. He said that helped to shape his view that government should provide basic services while striving to offer job-creating opportunities for left-behind residents to improve lives. After encountering street children on a side trip to Zimbabwe, he raised thousands of dollars to help feed, house and teach them.
Although he remained a Democrat until 2011, Winton worked for a Republican in the 1999 Philadelphia mayoral campaign in an uphill battle that was lost by a slim margin. Winton worked with college roommate Theo LeCompte, who oversaw logistics on the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and he served as treasurer for Ashwin Madia’s Democratic bid for Congress that year.
But by early 2011, he became a Republican. One factor was moving from a law firm to work for Outland Energy Services, where he said he saw the impact of taxation and regulation on business decisions. The other was the arrival of his first child, and what he said was a realization of the public debt being passed to her generation.
He then helped sell the company to Duke Energy, where he now works as senior counsel for a subsidiary. Associates credit him for working to make sure that employees kept their jobs and got a payout for a portion of the sale.
Opinions came early
Winton’s outspoken activism started early. When the Philadelphia Inquirer would arrive during their boyhood, “He always got the editorial page. For me, it was the comics,” said brother Jeb.
But friends say he’s also the rah-rah teammate in the subzero broomball games, the karaoke aficionado with the bitter rocking “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette as his signature, the first guy to get to know everybody in the room. That quality may grow out of his success in student government, starting in middle school and culminating in election as freshman class president at the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania.
He can also be persistent. He met his future wife when both attended the London School of Economics. She was tending bar in the pub in their dorm, but it took him months to wear down her reserve. They married in 2006, the same year he finished and she started law school.
Winton’s combination of analytic smarts and affability has impressed some unlikely supporters.
Next-door neighbor Larry Forsman said at age 62, he’s voted Republican only once but he’s supporting Winton.
“He’s a smart guy. He’s not a career politician. He doesn’t need the job.”