Four candidates for the city council's Third Ward seat knocked heads over economic development, public safety and a shape-shifting issue they called "the Wow factor" in a debate sponsored by the downtown Minneapolis neighborhood association on Tuesday. About 100 people showed up, many of them enjoying wine and beer with their politics in the tasteful upper room of Open Book, a location on Washington Av., in a new part of the redistricted ward, that is in many ways symbolic of the arts and entertainment energy growing in the riverfront ward.

The forum featured DFL-endorsed Jacob Frey, who countered criticism that he's only been a Minneapolis resident for five years with a record of community organizing; two-term incumbent Diane Hofstede, who said she's been instrumental in transforming the ward from a down-on-its-luck corner of town to a showpiece; Green Party nominee Kristina Gronquist, who emphasized the need for social justice and environmental sensitivity in city policies; and Libertarian Michael Katch, who advocated strongly for benefits for senior residents in the ward.

Those in the audience experienced democracy in action in two different ways, as a 45-minute membership meeting of the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, including speeches by a half-dozen board candidates, preceded the council candidates' forum.

Frey served up the first reference to "the Wow factor," arguing that's what streetcars would bring to Minneapolis and its transportation system.

Hofstede said the term might also describe the nature of tough issues the city council has to deal with, adding that if taxes can be reined in "we can deliver a 'Wow' factor."

Katch said streetcars, like a Vikings stadium, are "another thing we cannot and will not afford." "Seniors can't afford to live here because -- Wow! -- taxes are too high," Katch added.

Gronquist pitched in on the Wow discussion by saying that unlike Hofstede she "would have supported different thing" than a Vikings stadium, and wants public safety improved.

Here's how the candidates answered two questions:

What's the most pressing issue facing the Third Ward?

Katch said it is to "keep the culture of our neighborhoods," with emphasis owner-owned, single-family homes.  "We don't want to become Manhattan," he added.

Public safety, followed by economic development, since one flows from the other, said Hofstede. Redeveloping ground-level parking lots and adding more bike and walking paths would also be critical, she said.

Gronquist said it is green-themed economic development, with connections to the Mississippi River and "creative solutions with scarce resources."

Increasing the residential population citywide, said Frey, which for the Third Ward would mean finding ways to attract and keep young families, now "the missing gap" between the young professionals and empty nesters who have been attracted to the area.

How would you deliver constituent service?

By making good on a pledge to respond to every call within 24 hours, said Frey. Spotlighting a key criticism of Hofstede, Frey also said his extensive organization can help stabilize staffing in the council office.

Hofstede said she would simply continue the current work of answering 25,000 e-mails and 10,000 phone calls a year, and attending numerous community meetings. "I'm available, and not just in one way. In a variety of ways," she said.

Gronquist said she believes many residents have simply given up on working with city hall, believeing it's an impenetrable bureaucracy and controlled by special interests. She'd bring her human resources experience to bear on the job.

Katch said he'd work to develop a web program by which constituents, each assigned a user ID and password, could examine agendas and vote on them. "It's not what I want, it's what you want," he said of civic decisions. "You should direct that office to do your will."

A collection of Star Tribune election coverage is here.