Streetcar funding debated and details few on how candidates raise money.
A week into absentee voting, 595 people have already cast in-person ballots at City Hall, according to the City Clerk’s office.
City Clerk Casey Carl said the overwhelming majority of those voters — he estimated about 95 percent — have come from Ward 6. That’s the East African-dominated south Minneapolis ward where Somali candidate Abdi Warsame is waging an aggressive campaign against incumbent Robert Lilligren.
Carl said 149 people voted Sept. 20, the first day absentee voting was available. By comparison, only 15 people cast in-person absentee ballots on the first day of absentee voting in 2012 — a presidential election year that saw 81 percent turnout among registered voters.
The voters were being shuttled in groups on Thursday afternoon. Warsame staffer Mohamed Jama said many of the absentee voters will be out of the country on Election Day at a Hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca).
“This is a machine we’re running,” Jama said. He added: “This is a historic move by our community.”
Carl said the number of ballots is interesting to see so early on, though it does not necessarily indicate high turnout. It does, however, show that there is “good ground organization,” he said. In addition to the in-person votes, the city has received requests for another 127 mail absentee ballots.
Details scant on who funds campaigns
Weak campaign finance laws in Minneapolis and statewide allow the public few timely disclosures on how candidates raise their money, and a roomful of students at a mayoral campaign forum at the University of Minnesota didn’t pick up many details from the contenders.
A moderator said that corporate donations have played an increasingly influential role in political campaigns and asked the eight candidates on stage to disclose which corporations have contributed to them, and how they will remain accountable to constituents as well as those donors.
Don Samuels, Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes and Betsy Hodges didn’t name any of their donors, though Andrew and Cherryhomes did call for public financing of campaigns. Noting that he had spent most of his life on the East Coast, Cam Winton said he raised money from old out-of-state friends who are in law and finance, in addition to people “from all walks of life” in the city.
Three more candidates at the event — Doug Mann, Bob Fine and Stephanie Woodruff — have raised little money, though fundraising is a key measure of candidate strength in this year’s crowded field of 35 contenders. Woodruff said proudly that she had spent only about $2,000 in a race with $1 million pouring in overall, adding that most of her money donations came from retirees and small business owners.
Streetcar payment plan? Not so fast
Many mayoral candidates expressed skepticism this week over a plan to divert more than $60 million in property taxes to pay for streetcars, which received unanimous approval from the City Council in June.
Though most candidates supported streetcars as a mode of transit, few were ready to endorse the state-authorized “value capture district” that would redirect taxes from several major development projects already underway across the city.
Just this week, the City Council endorsed streetcars as the transit improvement of preference along Nicollet and Central Avenues.
Speaking at a forum Thursday night, here’s what each said: Andrew favors them but is “not quite there” on the financing; Winton said the city should opt for bus improvements, which are significantly cheaper; Fine said he supports continuing development of light rail; Woodruff said she likes streetcars but is “not a fan” of the proposal to pay for them; Council Members Samuels and Hodges voted for the financing plan; and Cherryhomes did not directly address the streetcar funding.