In Minneapolis, three council members are on the ropes

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE, MAYA RAO and ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2013 - 1:53 PM

Three council members face formidable foes, shifting demographics.

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A large group of Somali Americans voted via absentee ballots Thursday at Minneapolis City Hall. The highly mobilized immigrant community is putting at least one incumbent in danger this election. Two others are battling against youthful, energized activism.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Three Minneapolis City Council members are fighting for their political lives, knocked on their heels by a highly mobilized immigrant community in one race and youthful, energized activism in the other two.

Their vulnerability comes as the mayor and four council members are giving up their seats voluntarily. That means a majority of the council’s 13 seats are up for grabs this Election Day, potentially leading to the biggest turnover in the city since 2001, when seven new members and Mayor R.T. Rybak swept into office.

The three are on the ropes for varying reasons, though many relate to the changing demographics of city politics. Young activism is driving challengers to Council Members Diane Hofstede and Meg Tuthill, while a new ward dominated by East Africans has put Robert Lilligren on the defensive.

Having many new faces at City Hall also figures to disrupt the consensus-driven politics that has been a signature of Rybak’s administration — policy differences often have been hashed out behind closed doors, rather than in front of the cameras.

“It will be very different, there’s no doubt,” said council President Barb Johnson, who is running for re-election. She observed that the newbies will have to get acquainted immediately with citywide — rather than ward-centric — issues. “Finding out what a big enterprise this city is, I think, is kind of an eye-opener for people.”

Ward 3: Youthful energy vs. family history

Two-term Third Ward council Member Diane Hofstede is in what she herself calls “the fight of my political life,” challenged by attorney Jacob Frey in a ward that covers much of the central riverfront, including parts of downtown and Northeast.

Hofstede, sister-in-law of former Mayor Al Hofstede and a representative of a part of Minneapolis long known for family-based political alliances, was roundly snubbed this spring for DFL Party endorsement. That instead went to Frey, who has the support of five of Hofstede’s 12 colleagues on the City Council — a rare but deep chasm.

“This isn’t the same old Third Ward,” said council Member Lisa Goodman. “Jacob Frey is a better match. His energy and his knowledge about the issues facing this very dense part of the city make him the better candidate. “

Hofstede, 67, says her work with developers, city regulatory agencies, the Park Board and community groups has enabled the ward to make over its troubled, postindustrial image and become a magnet for restaurants, art venues, stylish housing, recreational opportunities — and people.

Frey, 32, a former elite professional marathoner who financed law school with his running winnings, uses many of the same terms Hofstede does — “potential” and “vibrancy” in particular — in describing the ward. He says he would back strategies to increase density and, by extension, nurture small businesses, and work to get small parks and a school to keep young families. Asked what is at stake in the race, Frey said “energy and enthusiasm. We need someone who is going to lead.”

Michael Rainville Sr., board member of the St. Anthony West Community Organization, backs Frey in part because of what he described as Hof­stede’s unresponsiveness. She has been criticized for being lax in returning phone calls and e-mails from constituents, and for a high rate of turnover in her office. In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, after investigating a claim from a Hofstede staffer, determined there had been a "hostile work environment" in Hofstede's office.

“It’s not enough to have the familiar name or be the friend of a friend,” he said. “We need results.”

Hofstede said anybody in the ward can call her at home or the office. Of people who say she doesn’t respond to them, she said, “Maybe they didn’t get the answer they wanted.”

Victor Grambsch, board member of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association, supports Hofstede for continuity and experience. “Everything he [Frey] says, she can say ‘Been there,’ ” he said.

BILL McAULIFFE

 

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