Ray Dehn has emerged as the favored mayoral candidate of Minneapolis DFL insiders. Now the challenge will be to translate his appeal to the broader electorate ahead of the Nov. 7 election.
“It’s the first test of strength, obviously,” Minneapolis DFL chair Dan McConnell said of Saturday’s DFL convention where Dehn finished atop a crowded field of mayoral candidates. But, “there’s more than just Democrats that live in our city.”
Dehn, a state legislator from north Minneapolis, has run a campaign to the left of Mayor Betsy Hodges and tapped into a vein of enthusiasm for a candidate who addresses the plight of the city’s disenfranchised. Hodges is running on a similar platform — as she did for her election in 2013 — but finished third. No candidate was endorsed.
“Everyone needs to think about where we’re at as a city,” Dehn said Saturday in his speech to delegates. “Just because our hearts have evolved to see the inherent injustice, it doesn’t mean that the system has. Unless we actively disrupt systems of white supremacy, we are destined to uphold them.”
A one-time felon who was later pardoned, Dehn (pronounced DEEN) became an architect and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012. His signature accomplishment there was the passage of legislation banning the box that felons must check on job applications.
He was seen as a long-shot candidate when he announced his run for mayor in December, but he assembled a young, tech-savvy and relentlessly analytical campaign team, and made a surprisingly strong showing at the April 4 caucuses, partly thanks to the backing of Our Revolution, a spinoff of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
He drew criticism for pledging, if he becomes mayor, not to veto any measure backed by Our Revolution Twin Cities.
Still, Dehn’s caucus momentum carried over to the marathon convention on Saturday, where he bested Hodges by 8 percentage points and beat his nearest competitor, Council Member Jacob Frey, by 5 points. Tom Hoch, the former head of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, came in fourth place.
Hodges said Monday she feels good about her position coming out of the convention, where she gave a speech touting her work to reform the Minneapolis Police Department and make the city more equal.
Alida Tieberg, Hodges’ campaign spokeswoman, said none of her opponents can match her expertise, experience, or results.
“We have some huge advantages to win support from voters this November that we didn’t have in 2013: much higher name ID, a record of progressive results, and having opponents who are not well prepared to navigate the realities of the office,” Tieberg said.
At the convention, Dehn performed well across the city, winning the most delegates in eight of 13 wards, including his home base of north Minneapolis, Northeast, Uptown and two wards of south Minneapolis east of Interstate 35W.
“Our vision resonated with people who’ve been hurting and feel they’ve been left behind, and they see in me somebody that really understands them,” Dehn said.
Whether that strong showing among delegates from Dehn and several progressive City Council candidates will carry over to the general election is a question on lots of minds in Minneapolis this week.
“Will the Bernie Sanders messaging and method be deep enough to carry them through to winning the election? I don’t know,” said Roann Cramer, a longtime DFL insider and member of the state central committee. “I think there’s a lot of pragmatic voters in Minneapolis and they’re concerned about how city services are rendered and how tax dollars are spent.”
Voter turnout in Minneapolis city elections historically comes disproportionately from the southwest part of the city, and Dehn’s poorest showings were in the 11th and 13th Wards, which run from Lake Nokomis to Edina and include some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.
Dehn said he is confident he can win over those voters as the campaigns pivot toward November.
“My feeling is a lot of those people in those wards, although they may not be hurting, they believe the health of the city is determined by those parts that are hurting the most,” he said.
Hodges still holds the advantage of incumbency and familiarity with an electorate that hasn’t been following the campaigns closely. She has the backing of the SEIU labor union, which helped vault her to office in 2013. No first-term mayor has lost a re-election bid in the past 20 years.
Frey will also be a tough competitor. He had a war chest of $177,000 — four times as much as Hodges and 30 times as much as Dehn — at the beginning of the year, the last time campaigns reported their fundraising.
Whether he embraces the reputation or not, Frey is seen as a more politically moderate candidate than Hodges or Dehn, and he said late Saturday he was anxious for the next phase of the campaign.
“It’ll be very empowering to pitch our message to the broader public,” he said.