Despite their pious protests (“DFL is trying to put a thumb on the scales,” Feb. 2), St. Paul STRONG commentary authors, including John Mannillo and Shirley Erstad, really object to the DFL endorsement process because it provides a way for ordinary people, with little more than the ability to inspire others, a way to earn political power.

It is how a real estate developer like John Mannillo, who has been on every blue ribbon panel since the Latimer administration, gets beaten by a union member with a lot of friends in the neighborhood, Chris Tolbert.

It’s how a homeowner and neighborhood association board member like Shirley Erstad gets beaten by Mitra Nelson, who was a newcomer to St. Paul, and a renter to boot.

More specifically, Erstad and Mannillo say the DFL is “tipping the scales” toward incumbents in Wards 2, 3 and 4 by scheduling our ward conventions on the same day as precinct caucuses. But for those interested mainly in the citywide school board races, it is much easier to participate when caucuses and ward conventions are on the same day. They don’t have to attend a separate ward convention on another day just to get elected to the city convention. Because we want to make participation easy for them, in cases where there is only one active City Council campaign, the party traditionally schedules caucuses and ward conventions on the same day.

In fact, had we violated this general practice, many Democrats would have accused party insiders of tipping the scales against delegates who want to endorse a candidate and who want to start the campaign. All we can do is schedule the ward convention; the delegates take it from there. They can endorse, not endorse or even just adjourn and consider endorsing at a later date.

Mannillo and Erstad say this creates “a Catch-22 … [and] it almost guarantees there won’t be any challengers because the dates are early.” But all across the city, candidates decided to run well before any dates were announced. There are a wide variety of candidates in the other four wards, including challenges to three incumbents, two of whom were DFL-endorsed the last time they ran. In these races, we have scheduled a suitable period between the caucuses and the ward conventions, so all candidates will have a chance to persuade delegates.

The caucus process provides candidates — especially those with little money, name recognition or institutional support — a meaningful chance to win by persuading grassroots delegates. Unlike the general citywide election that Mannillo and Erstad want to make the only path to victory, you don’t need $100,000 to win the DFL endorsement. But you can’t win if you don’t run, and no one should expect the process to be put on hold for candidates who don’t step forward.

Rick Varco is treasurer of the St. Paul DFL and political director, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. For information on caucuses and conventions, go to