Shakopee's fiery race for mayor is heading into its last days, propelled by a debate in which the challenger speaks of a contest between "radically different ways of looking at things."

As the two men responded to questions, proof of that gap came often:

• Asked about the city's relations with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Mayor John Schmitt recalled the days half a century ago when a poverty-stricken band allegedly "stripped cable from phone lines" to survive. Challenger Brad Tabke spoke of shedding past hurts and mending a "horrible relationship" with a community the city will be sitting "next to until the end of time."

• Asked about upgrades to Hwy. 101 through town, Schmitt invoked a better day when Mapquest will have to guide growing streams of motorists through the heart of town. Tabke asked why the city didn't mimic St. Louis Park's Excelsior Boulevard: a leafy but expensive upgrade that has helped unleash a wave of upscale development.

• Asked about crime, Tabke warned that "people are scared." Schmitt promised that the cops are on top of things to the point that "you will find miscreants painting out some of that graffiti -- we've been that successful."

If there was a gaffe it was perhaps the moment when the 73-year-old mayor spoke of a fast-growing immigrant population as "those people." He corrected himself at once, to "some of those folks," but that didn't spare him an acid response from his 32-year-old adversary:

"We need to bring a lot of disparate groups together," Tabke said, "and not talk about 'those people.' "

Schmitt has to be feeling whiplash. Last time out he was challenged from his right flank by a veteran council member complaining of overspending. This time it's a business leader -- Tabke headed the city's Chamber of Commerce board until last week -- asserting that the city isn't investing enough, whether it's community center upgrades or uniformed patrols.

Sensing unrest from Tabke-like newcomers with young families, Schmitt stressed from the start what the city has done for new subdivisions.

"We've built 10 new parks in eight years" and overhauled others, he declared. "We're not sitting on our hands."

Time and again, Schmitt emphasized big-shouldered infrastructure: industrial development, major highways, parking-lot upgrades. Tabke talked of Shakopee becoming a more happening place.

"We need more restaurants, shops, hotels," he lamented. "We need a fun downtown retail experience, something that's uniquely Shakopee. We need a vision to get to that point."

That, replied the mayor, is more easily said than done. "Trying to develop downtown has been a challenge for almost 20 years," he said.

It was a type of comment that plays into Tabke's narrative: the mayor as genial chap, "good guy," who knows all the history but is too weighed down by past frustration to lead a dynamic charge into a brighter future.

Schmitt sees his challenger as a callow youth, promising the moon and the sky but with little sense of what it takes.

The debate contained a few new twists.

In an argument over whether Shakopee has enough cops, Tabke pointed again to a national benchmark, 1.5 per 1,000 population, which would leave Shakopee 10 short.

Schmitt replied that another, more nuanced study, looking at "what's happening in your community -- do you have cats in trees or killings and rapes," finds the city is only five short. He also said Shakopee is better staffed than neighboring communities.

Addressing links to the Shakopee tribe, Tabke spoke of how land acquired by that casino-enriched group and turned into native prairie should be seen as an asset to the town, not the infuriating obstacle to growth that civic leaders have lamented.

"It can benefit both," he said. "We could have environmental interpretative centers, or trails, as amenities. We can and should work together: mend fences and move forward."

Schmitt insisted that "we do work together. It's just not necessarily the relationship that everyone would like to have."

Case in point, he said: the $1 million challenge grant from the tribe that has helped enlarge a rehab center connected with the local hospital, or the defibrillators it has donated to police and churches.

"A lot of those things go on," he said, "and will continue to. We don't have totally strained relations."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285