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Not everyone shares the same view of Andrew.
“He postures like he’s Mr. MPIRG and he’s green and he’s environmental … he’s not a real environmental activist,” said Leslie Davis, founder and president of Earth Protectors, who opposed the incinerator project. Andrew’s support of the incinerator, Davis said, is not “like a blemish on your record; you can’t ever get beyond something like that.”
Bickering and political clashes dominated county governance through much of Andrew’s time on the board. A private consultant’s report in 1993 found that county government suffered from eroded relationships and flawed decisionmaking. Aided by the election of several new commissioners, Andrew helped usher in a period of civility during the last third of his service.
Throughout his tenure, Andrew championed spending on social services, particularly for women and family planning programs. He supported a clean needle exchange, welfare reform and county health insurance for domestic partners, and he led the effort for the Midtown Greenway and expanding the county’s authority to work on projects beyond its normal reach.
“A lot of votes I made that were for women’s issues or poor people’s issues are due to Mark Andrew,” said John Derus, a former county commissioner who served with him in the ’80s and early ’90s. “He’d sit in my office and argue with me about it. … He is an excellent salesperson.”
Andrew says he weighed running for mayor as far back as the early 1990s, but the timing was never right — until Mayor R.T. Rybak said he would not seek another term this year and the contest to replace him was flung wide open.
A businessman with a wife, two kids and a house in Lynnhurst, life wasn’t always so tidy for Andrew.
Behind the public image is a man who triumphed over a chaotic childhood. The second of five children, Andrew was born into a south Minneapolis family struggling to hold their own. His father worked as a water meter reader for the city by day and as a janitor by night. His parents divorced when he was in high school and he quickly learned to fend for himself.
As a teen, he started throwing dances and concerts to pay his expenses, persuading churches to open their basements, bringing in bands and hiring off-duty cops. Ever since college, Andrew has maintained the “World’s Greatest French Fries” stand at the Minnesota State Fair for extra money.
Andrew battles the same diabetes that has afflicted his family members. He also sought treatment for alcoholism after leaving the County Board. A man who once longed to be a writer, Andrew regrets that he now hardly has time to read — the “Life of Pi” has gathered dust for months next to his bed.
His personal history has shaped many of the traditionally liberal ideals he brings up on the campaign trail. When it comes to education issues — among the most important and controversial in the race — he has objected to opponents’ proposals that would threaten teachers’ union protections.
Earlier, he spoke out against charter schools and Teach for America, an organization that recruits teachers for lower-income and rural schools. At a recent forum, however, he voiced support for the alternative teaching program and made a general statement in favor of school choices for parents.
Several campaigns have criticized him for giving different answers to different audiences, and independent candidate Cam Winton attacked him at the same forum for supporting the status quo.
Andrew took Winton’s criticism in stride.
“I have a titanium spine,” he responded, “and I’m not bashful about standing up to any group of people.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210