5 DFLers vying for Senate seat vacated by Pogemiller

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2011 - 4:14 PM

The bid to narrow the field for the Northeast district is one of two primaries Tuesday. The other is in south Minneapolis.

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Sen. Larry Pogemiller

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Of the three special legislative elections in Minneapolis since September, the one to watch is the skirmish taking place east of the river.

State Sen. Larry Pogemiller's departure from the reliably DFL seat covering Northeast and Dinkytown has drawn several left-leaning candidates rushing to fill it, most touting name recognition or high-profile endorsements. Five candidates are in a heated battle for votes in Tuesday's DFL primary.

Some are familiar faces around City Hall, such as Mayor R.T. Rybak's policy director, Peter Wagenius, and former Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow, now an assistant Anoka County attorney.

Others, such as fundraising front-runner Kari Dziedzic, have a well-known name. Dziedzic is a policy aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein. Her father, Walt Dziedzic, served on the Minneapolis City Council for 20 years.

Even the political neophytes are garnering attention. Mohamud Noor, a former employee of the Department of Human Services, has landed some significant endorsements and would be the first Somali elected to the Legislature.

Jacob Frey, a Minneapolis attorney, hasn't attracted as many endorsements but emerged as one of the race's most outspoken candidates at a recent debate.

Dziedzic has collected the most endorsements and high-profile supporters. She has the backing of the Teamsters, WomenWinning, the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, and the city's police and firefighter unions. That's in addition to more than a dozen elected officials.

Noor has the support of TakeAction Minnesota, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, Stonewall DFL and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

Wagenius too has a crew of elected officials backing his campaign, including Rybak and several City Council members. He also has the endorsement of the Sierra Club.

At a recent tête-à-tête hosted by the local DFL, each candidate had an opportunity to frame his or her campaign.

Frey, who at 30 is the youngest person in the race, said his age was an asset. "It is undoubtedly time for a generational shift at the Senate and I'm the one to bring it," he said.

Noor said he would like to step in behind recently retired Sen. Linda Berglin, who specialized in health care reform. "I would like to ... be the champion for our people."

In addition to advocating for campaign finance reform, Ostrow said the state will have to tax more than just the rich to solve its budget woes. "We tell everyone 'tax the rich and everything will be great.' No, not going to happen," Ostrow said.

Wagenius said the Legislature needs to "put the Minnesota Miracle back together" by fighting Republican changes to local government aid, integration aid, and the school funding formula. "Underneath the qualities of ... the state that I grew up in were policies that said your fate and your community's fate doesn't depend on the property tax wealth of your districts."

Dziedzic said the state must raise taxes on the wealthy -- a belief echoed by all the candidates -- to fund education, her top legislative priority. "The correlation between crime and high school drop [outs] is a higher correlation than lung cancer and smoking," Dziedzic said.

The only Republican candidate in the race, college student Ben Schwanke, is running unopposed on Tuesday. The general election will be held Jan. 10.

It's not the only special election primary on Tuesday. Polls will be open in the Bryant and Powderhorn neighborhoods to fill the seat of Rep. Jeff Hayden, who was recently elected to the state Senate. Only Susan Allen, the DFL endorsee, and Paul Dennis are still running for the DFL nomination -- although their opponents' names will also appear on the primary ballot. The winner will face Respect candidate Nathan Blumenshine in the general election.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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