Updated at 5:17 p.m.

Responding to what has become one of the most contentious issues bearing down on City Hall, mayoral candidate Mark Andrew said Monday that a public vote on municipalization of the city's utility would be "reckless." 

The City Council will hold a public hearing this Thursday on whether Minneapolis should hold a referendum authorizing a public takeover of the city's energy infrastructure from Xcel Energy Inc. The issue has been slowly simmering on the campaign trail, but Andrew's comments Monday are among most forceful of any candidate to date.

“It’s reckless and irresponsible to put something on the ballot that win or lose is going to dramatically set back the mayor’s ability to strike a deal on the franchise agreement next year or the year after," Andrew said, adding that the city would spend millions on legal studies if the initiative were to pass.

Andrew simultaneously slammed his main DFL opponent, Betsy Hodges, for supporting of the referendum. Hodges campaign shot back that Andrew has been changing his tune on the issue.

"Unlike Mark Andrew, who tells different people different things about the franchise agreement, my position has always been that Minneapolis needs to negotiate the best deal possible by considering all options for energy that is affordable, green and reliable," Hodges said in a statement.

Hodges campaign also noted in response that Andrew's green marketing firm, GreenMark, lists Xcel as a client on its website. Andrew said in June that Xcel was a client of GreenMark in 2008.

Andrew's comments about Hodges were particularly pointed.

“The city council member running for mayor who’s behind all of this has zero business experience," Andrew said. "She has never worked in the private sector a day in her life. And doesn’t understand that when we have to negotiate a deal that’s going to be worth billions of dollars to our people, that you have to have constructive engagement. You can’t go into a discussion in a toxic atmosphere and having this ballot initiative on the ballot accomplishes that and nothing else.”

Hodges has, however, worked in the private sector -- though at nonprofits. She was executive director of Progressive Minnesota, now Take Action Minnesota, and Development Director at the Minnesota Justice Foundation before joining the Council.

Hodges campaign manager Andy O'Leary said their reference to Andrew telling "different people different things" refers to comments he has made at forums and the DFL convention when he was "much more positive about the energy option than he is here."

In his convention speech, Andrew said, "I strongly support the environmental principals and goals of Minneapolis Energy Options—always have, always will." He made no denunciations of the referendum effort in his remarks.

Andrew held the news conference Monday to highlight 100 days remaining until the election and unveil a banner-wrapped Prius his campaign will drive to neighborhoods across the city.

Soon after Andrew's press conference, candidate Jackie Cherryhomes released a statement of her own on municipalization.

“The debate over the municipalization of utilities is an example of politics over logic," Cherryhomes said. "Buying the Xcel and CenterPoint infrastructure would cost us billions of dollars.”

Independent candidate Cam Winton issued a statement last week about his opposition to a referendum on municipalization. He said the city would be unable to appropriately run a utility, would spend too much money creating one, and would disrupt the local business climate.

Winton added that residents already get good service at a good price from Xcel.