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Minneapolis real estate developer Kelly Doran in 2011.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Big contributors hope to influence Minneapolis mayoral race

  • Article by: MAYA RAO and ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2013 - 6:36 AM

A major utility, developers and labor unions with money and clout on the line at City Hall are donating heavily to the Minneapolis mayoral race.

Financial reports released this week offer the most detailed look yet at the money pouring into the most competitive mayoral campaign in 20 years.

The donations don’t carry the high-dollar amounts of some state campaigns, but offer a look at alliances taking shape on some of the most crucial policy decisions that will be made after Mayor R.T. Rybak leaves office. The reports also included big-dollar checks from corporations as far away as Florida and Nevada.

With five days until the election, the big money drew a sharp mention on the campaign trail.

“We are not one Minneapolis when the candidate for mayor with the biggest war chest and the most money from big donors tries to buy his way into the mayor’s office,” Council Member Betsy Hodges said at a Thursday campaign rally, taking a veiled shot at Mark Andrew, who has hauled in the most money of any candidate.

His spokeswoman, Marion Greene, responded that Andrew has built the broadest and most diverse coalition.

“Earning broad support is the sign of a leader who can move Minneapolis forward, and that’s what she’s attacking here,” she said in an e-mailed statement.

Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner, has raised $420,284, on top of an independent spending group raising $136,500 to campaign on his behalf.

The three independent groups in the race can raise and spend unlimited amounts, but campaigns have no say over their operations.

In direct contributions, Andrew received at least $5,600 from employees and lobbyists for Xcel Energy.

The company has major interests at City Hall next year, when its multimillion-dollar utility franchise agreement to provide electricity to the city is set to expire.

Earlier this year, city officials discussed the possibility of not renewing the agreement and seeking authorization from voters to form a municipal utility, a proposal that Xcel lobbied heavily against and Andrew described then as reckless and irresponsible.

Teamsters Local 120 gave $15,000 to the Coalition for a Better Minneapolis, the independent group that’s paying for mailers and TV ads in support of Andrew.

The union successfully pressed the city this year to continue applying a controversial “labor peace” clause to a multimillion-dollar garbage collection contract up for bid that would open the door for it to more easily unionize employees of whichever company won the work.

The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, which also advocated to city officials this year to keep labor peace in place, gave more money than any other group in the race, donating $28,400 to the Coalition for a Better Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Refuse Inc., the consortium that won the trash contract, donated $1,500, nearly all of it to Council Member Don Samuels.

Lobbyists with North State Advisors, a firm owned by former Mayor Al Hofstede, gave $600 to Andrew. The company represents Covanta Energy, which operates the Hennepin County trash incinerator that is at the center of a controversy between the city and county to possibly increase its burning capacity from 80 to 100 percent. North State Advisors also lobbies on behalf of Aspen Waste, which unsuccessfully bid on the garbage contract.

And the company just picked up the Timberwolves as a client; the basketball team has been negotiating with the city on a renovation project for the Target Center. Others at the Timberwolves gave $1,500 to Andrew.

The Minneapolis firefighters’ union was among the top donors in the entire campaign, giving $18,000 to the Coalition for a Better Minneapolis.

One of the most controversial issues at City Hall has been a cutback in firefighter staffing, and the union is advocating for additional firefighters to be hired so it can do its job more safely.

Andrew “hasn’t made any promises, [but] he would work with us,” said union secretary Joe Mattison. “He would listen to us.”

One reason that Andrew has more establishment donations is that he has one of the longest résumés in public life of any of the candidates, having spent 16 years on the Hennepin County Board and going on to work as a public relations consultant and businessman who at one time had Xcel and Target Center as clients.

“In public life, you have to be able to take a contribution from someone and then be able to disagree with them,” Greene said. “And Mark’s record shows this.”

Council Member Cam Gordon, who is not running in a competitive race this year, said that it’s difficult for people who accept money from those doing business with the city not to appear like they have been influenced by it.

As a member of the Green Party, he has put limits on contributions he takes from businesses with matters pending at City Hall.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure to accept money [in the mayor’s race], especially if you think there are other people running that are accepting money … and there’s no rules against it,” he said.

Developers with city business have also opened their checkbooks.

Close to $20,000 in campaign cash flooded in from developers proposing a $48.5 million apartment complex in Cedar-Riverside, negotiating with the city on a project for several hundred artist housing units in the old Pillsbury A-Mill building, building the Vikings stadium, and proposing a five-story building outside the North Loop requiring city approvals.

Those donors are also working with City Hall on a development for Penn and Broadway avenues and a project featuring office, commercial and restaurant spaces in Uptown, as well as seeking approvals for a redevelopment of commercial office space in northeast Minneapolis.

Developer Kelly Doran gave a total of $1,500 to Hodges, Samuels and Andrew. He is pitching a controversial residential-retail project in Dinkytown and said he is not seeking any favors. “It’s actually kind of offensive to think you give somebody a few hundred dollars and somehow they’re going to vote for you,” he said.

The independent group supporting Hodges, the Committee for a Greater Minneapolis, received about $24,000 from the Service Employees International Union. SEIU represents Downtown Improvement District ambassadors — in addition to janitors, security officers and others — but not city employees.

Her committee also received $13,000 in donations from Shayna Berkowitz and Phyllis Wiener. Berkowitz is the owner of ReGo, which converts hybrid cars to plug-ins.

The independent group supporting Jackie Cherryhomes, Minneapolis Forward, stood alone in accepting big-dollar corporate contributions.

The largest donation was $20,000 from AGT Enterprises, a Florida-based company managed by TracFone Wireless CEO F.J. Pollak. TracFone is most known for offering government-subsidized cellphone service to low-income people.

Cherryhomes said Pollak is a longtime personal friend of her husband, attorney F. Clayton Tyler.

The group also received $10,000 from a Minneapolis business called Anchor Real Estate Services, which state records show is managed by developer Daniel Dean Oberpriller. Oberpriller’s firm, CPM, owns, builds and manages many residential properties in the University of Minnesota area.

Three companies affiliated with businessman and former Schieks Palace Royale strip club owner Robert Sabes gave $5,000 each. Two of them, Minnehaha Investments and Minnetonka Investments, are based in Nevada. The latter is now majority owner of New Bohemia Sausage & Bier Haus on Hennepin Avenue in northeast Minneapolis. Sabes and his family donated $1,000 to ​​the Cherryhomes campaign and $1,500 to Samuels.

Sabes, who now lives in Nevada, declined to comment on the donations when reached by phone. Cherryhomes was described as a friend of Sabes in a 1996 news report, but said Thursday that she has no contact with him.

 

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

Eric Roper • 612-673-1722

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