You want choices for mayor, Minneapolis? You’ve got ’em.
Voters will encounter a record 35 candidates when they go to the polls next month, and it’s a big tent politically.
This being Minneapolis, only one candidate filed as a Republican. His party is outnumbered by two Greens, two Libertarians and two far-left candidates, one a Trotskyist and the other a Stalinist. Plus nine DFLers, of course.
Prefer pirates? There’s Captain Jack Sparrow (it’s his legal name on his driver’s license) and Kurtis W. Hanna, a candidate walking the Pirate Party plank. If you prefer someone who’s actually been on the wrong side of the law to an ersatz buccaneer, there’s Jeffrey Alan Wagner, who admits he’s been convicted twice of drunken driving.
The candidate you’re voting for may not even live in Minneapolis. Mayoral hopefuls filed from residences in Columbia Heights, Shorewood and South St. Paul. None has moved to the city yet, but all three said last week that they still intend to beat the deadline for doing so.
Some attribute the bewildering variety to ranked-choice voting, which means that every candidate appears on the November ballot, without a primary to cut the field, with voters ranking their top three choices. But St. Paul, which also uses ranked-choice voting in city elections, has only four mayoral candidates.
Two other factors inflated the Minneapolis field. First, there’s no incumbent running, unlike 2009 when Mayor R.T. Rybak ran a third time and only 10 challengers filed. In contrast, St. Paul incumbent Chris Coleman is running for a third term.
Second, the cities set different filing thresholds. Minneapolis charges $20 to file for mayor, unchanged since the 1960s, but St. Paul charges $500. When City Clerk Casey Carl sought to raise the Minneapolis fee to $500 to offset rising election costs, the City Council deferred the issue until after the election, skittish over complaints that raising the fee could aid incumbents.
Jeanne Massey, executive director of FairVote Minnesota, the prime group advocating ranked-choice voting, said it wants a higher filing threshold to offset the lack of a primary. Those running should be required to show “that you’ve got the amount of initiative to gather a campaign around you,” she said.
Those are fighting words to the motley crew of candidates that gathers weekly at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza to pass resolutions and hope to attract TV cameras. They range from Sparrow, dressed from boots to tricorn hat a la Johnny Depp, complete with eyeliner, to the group’s beetle-browed convener, Bob “Again” Carney Jr., to Dan Cohen, the only one of 10 candidates who showed up last week who has held public office and won campaign debate invitations.
They rail against the news media’s division of the field into major candidates and also-rans, and the exclusion of the latter by debate organizers. Only KFAI radio has attempted to interview all 35.
“I’ve listened to some of the interviews and they’re not all wackos,” said Bill Kahn, a former cabdriver. He’s outlined a platform of municipal reform; his party label on the ballot is Last Minneapolis Mayor. He wants to elect five council members by ward, the other eight citywide and junk the mayor in favor of a city manager.
Another would-be reformer, Mark V. Anderson, is running under the Simplify Government label and pitching a back-to-basic-services approach.
Others find their inspiration elsewhere. John Charles Wilson, running a second time, calls himself a “Lauraist Communist.” He’s a Stalinist who espouses the belief that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God. He also proposes that an area in a 200-mile radius around Minneapolis secede from the nation. He admits to a history of mental health issues that he said date back to physical and psychological abuse at home and bullying in school.
“I just never got along with people,” he said. So is politics the right field for him? “I’ve learned coping skills.”
Despite the quirkiness of this year’s litter of candidates, political scientist Tony Hill argues that the field is notable for attracting a greater number of what he defines as quality candidates.
The student of Minneapolis mayoral history defines those as people who have won election (Dan Cohen, Mark Andrew, Bob Fine, Jackie Cherryhomes, Don Samuels, Betsy Hodges) or have won major party endorsement or attracted significant financial support (Cam Winton and possibly Stephanie Woodruff). That’s more quality candidates than in the two most crowded mayoral elections in the past 50 years: in 1993 when 17 filed for the most recent race without an incumbent and in the 2001 contest, when Rybak emerged from a field of 22.
Some who fall outside Hill’s definition still try to crash debates. Merrill (Jobs & Justice) Anderson complained about their exclusion at a debate last week when Cohen yielded him time. Anderson, who lives in Shorewood, said his required move to Minneapolis has been delayed by an operation for an intestinal resection, but he said he still plans to occupy the guest apartment of church-affiliated senior housing on downtown’s fringe. But he won’t stay if he loses. “My wife is not enthusiastic about me doing this,” said Anderson, who last ran in 1969.
Winton challenged excluded candidates to earn their place at debates, noting that he and others had begun campaigning in January, crisscrossing the city for festivals and parades, dialing for political contributions and fielding questions on Facebook.
Meanwhile, more than half of the candidates haven’t raised or spent enough to even trigger campaign finance reports; some lack campaign websites or e-mails.
Carney conceded that an all-candidates debate would be unwieldy. “It would be very off-putting to have anybody listen to 35 one-minute statements,” he said.
If anyone organizes that feat, freelance journalist Allison Herrera said she’s ready to capture the field’s quirkiness. Last week she posted on Facebook: “I’m going to produce a new reality show, and it’s going to be called ‘Who Wants to be Minneapolis Mayor?’ ”