Before the balloting for mayoral endorsement started at Saturday's Minneapolis DFL convention, the party's state chair allowed that having no endorsement would be a bad outcome — not for the city or those who seek to lead it, but for the city's strongest political force.

"It really weakens our party if we don't have an endorsement in this mayoral race," DFL chair Ken Martin said.

On Saturday morning, we would have quibbled with Martin. In two of the past three mayoral elections, the DFL made no endorsement. Yet DFL hold on Minneapolis city government today seems stronger than ever.

In fact, this page argued on Jan. 6, days after Mayor R.T. Rybak announced that he would not seek a fourth term, that the DFL would do itself credit if it made no attempt at a conventional endorsement, which requires 60 percent of delegates' votes. We urged either no endorsement or an "endorsement" of more than one candidate, without first exacting a pledge that candidates not chosen would end their bids.

This is the first Minneapolis mayoral election without an incumbent on the ballot in 20 years. Voters deserve to be engaged by a lively contest among competent candidates with competing visions for the city's future.

With at least seven declared mayoral candidates to date, six of them DFLers, and more expected soon, getting 60 percent of 1,400 delegates to settle on one of them was always a long shot, and not a desirable one at that. An endorsement by the city's dominant party likely would have deprived the voters of several strong contenders' voices. A campaign of diminished value would have been the result.

Yet after a very long day Saturday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, we would have conceded the party chair's point in one sense. The city DFL convention did weaken the party — not because it resulted in no endorsement, but because of the way it came to that end.

Saturday's convention put on display an antiquated, manipulation-prone decisionmaking process that did the opposite of what a good political convention should do. Instead of strengthening the standing of a party's candidate or candidates, this convention weakened all the candidates associated with it. We hope the many delegates who went home disgruntled on Saturday night stay unhappy enough to seek changes in the way the DFL seeks to influence election outcomes.

With streamlined voting methods and modern voting technology readily available — especially to an enterprise that, fundamentally, is all about voting — there's no excuse for a 13-hour convention that manages to complete only four inconclusive rounds of balloting.

Ranked-choice voting has the backing of most of the city's DFL establishment and was selected by the voters in 2006 for use in city elections. It's the reason this year's city election will not include a primary. Yet DFLers opted not to use that efficient voting method at their convention. They evidently preferred to preserve the opportunity for between-ballot buttonholing, ­alliance-building and mischief that slow-motion balloting and tallying affords.

Given the fractured nature of this mayoral race, ranked-choice voting was not likely to push any candidate over the 60 percent bar. But it would have made that situation obvious earlier and allowed for an orderly no-endorsement finish at a respectable hour — not the awkward adjournment that followed a walkout by one candidate's supporters, thereby denying the proceedings of a quorum.

The upshot: Former Hennepin County commissioner Mark Andrew, who led the balloting all day, came away as the guy who couldn't pull out a win. City Council Member Betsy Hodges, his nearest rival, looked like a subverter of a process to which she had vowed fealty. She urged her supporters to leave the hall after the fourth ballot, offering free pizza as bait.

The alliance of expediency formed earlier in the day between Hodges and fellow Council Member Gary Schiff brought neither lasting gain. Each damaged his/her esteem in the eyes of supporters who dislike the other.

The other candidates who tried for endorsement — City Council member Don Samuels, former Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and educator Jim Thomas — came away as deep also-rans. But their poor showing may have been as much a reflection of their refusal to pledge to abide by the endorsement as a reliable indicator of their appeal to the city's voters.

Saturday's winner? Some will say it was Cam Winton, the GOP-leaning independent who is running hard to loosen the DFL's stronghold on City Hall, or business executive Stephanie Woodruff, a DFLer who has scheduled her campaign kickoff for June 21 and took no part in the convention.

Our nominee: The voters of Minneapolis, who still have an engaging, full-blown contest on tap this fall. But we hope that seekers of a better way for political parties to choose candidates find that their hands have been strengthened, too.


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