Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew touts his eco-friendly projects and liberalism and has more campaign donations than any of his opponents in the crowded 35-candidate field for Minneapolis mayor.
On a June evening at an airy riverfront condo in Minneapolis, former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew prepared to step back into the political limelight.
He had not held elective office since 1999, but the room was brimming with powerful political supporters — a testament to the connections he has maintained through the years.
“Mark is the unifying force for getting all these people together,” said host Sam Kaplan, a longtime DFL power donor who recently returned to Minneapolis after a stint as U.S. ambassador to Morocco.
Andrew, a former DFL state party chairman with 16 years on the Hennepin County Board, has already commanded more campaign donations, more high-profile endorsements and more establishment connections than any of his opponents in the crowded 35-candidate field for Minneapolis mayor.
“I’ve had more elected service than anybody running,” Andrew said, “so I know a lot of people.”
Andrew’s passion for service was ignited in college in the 1970s, when he helped form the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG), a grass-roots student organization that has since grown into a powerhouse with similar groups across the country and accomplishments that include work on campaign finance laws, a state fluorocarbon ban, establishment of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and most recently, mobilization of the youth vote on gay marriage.
His interest in environmental issues has been a thread through his political and professional life. As a commissioner in the mid-’80s, he helped establish an early curbside recycling program for every city in the county. In 2007, he founded GreenMark, an environmental marketing firm that has worked with Target Field, Pentair and Xcel Energy. As mayor, Andrew said he wants to make Minneapolis the greenest city in the United States.
But Andrew’s environmental credentials took a hit early in his days on the board, when he backed a controversial trash incinerator project in the North Loop.
Protesters showed up to a board meeting dressed in chemical-hazard suits, and Statewatch, the newspaper of Andrew’s own MPIRG, ran an article raising questions about the health effects of toxins that would be emitted from the facility.
He was questioned about $4,000 in campaign contributions he took from employees and political action committees of those connected to the incinerator project. Andrew countered that the contributions were legal and that he needed to raise campaign funds.
MPIRG issued a report last month criticizing the incinerator for the release of damaging pollutants that disproportionately affects lower-income children. Andrew has noted during mayoral debates that converting waste to energy was an alternative to landfills that had been encouraged by the state. He praises the incinerator as the biggest and most successful alternative-energy project in the history of the state, while stopping short of supporting a plan to increase burning at the facility to the maximum capacity.
The pragmatism, while provoking some environmentalists, has impressed colleagues who, unprompted, praise his ability to strike compromises.
Council Member Lisa Goodman, now an Andrew supporter, recalled trying to secure his support in the early ’90s for a resolution to have Hennepin County Medical Center train doctors to perform abortions.
The timing seemed right: Andrew was known for promoting abortion rights, and after the latest election there was finally a majority of commissioners who shared his view. To Goodman’s frustration, he told her he would not pursue such a controversial move right away, because his job as chairman was to build collegiality on the board. He waited a year.
As Andrew put it, “The idea was to build relationships on the County Board and then nurse the controversial issues along and make sure that everybody on the County Board gets something they want.”
He may have learned some of that patience and consensus-building during the years he spent as a legislative aide to legendary former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, long considered one of the most powerful DFL politicians in the state.
Moe, who now is a lobbyist, said Andrew has “always been extremely fair and he’s not highly partisan. He tries to find good in everybody and tries to capitalize on the talents that people have.”