MnDOT acting chief, bus lines exec vie for top transportation job

Gov. Mark Dayton will choose between an agency veteran and the CEO of Jefferson Lines.

Gov. Mark Dayton will choose between a state transportation agency veteran and the CEO of Jefferson Lines for his next commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He will meet with Bernie Arseneau, the department's acting commissioner, and Charlie Zelle, the bus company executive, on Friday, according to the governor's office.

The two candidates vying to replace Thomas Sorel, who left the state's employ this month to become the head of AAA Minneapolis, come from very different backgrounds.

Arseneau has been with MnDOT for nearly three decades and has served a wide variety of roles in the agency. Like Sorel, who also had served as the commissioner under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Arseneau has a deep public transportation agency background.

Zelle is as steeped in business as Arseneau is in the agency. He began his career working for Merrill Lynch in New York, but left that world behind to help his family's business, Jefferson Lines, when it fell on tough times nearly three decades ago, according to an alumni profile of him at the Yale School of Management. The business is again flourishing, boasting record ridership and expansion.

Zelle has donated more than $80,000 to state and federal political causes in the last decade, including $16,000 to this year's successful campaign against the marriage amendment. He has given money largely to Democrats, including $1,500 to Dayton in 2010. He also donated to former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak who ran against Dayton in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. In 2002, he gave $750 to Pawlenty's gubernatorial campaign.

Neither state nor federal campaign finance databases list any political contributions from Arseneau.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb

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