Court mediator AJ Awed has raised the most money this year out of all 16 challengers to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, but that is not enough to qualify him for this week's debate hosted by the Minnesota DFL Lawyers Committee.
The virtual debate, scheduled for Wednesday, will only feature Frey, Sheila Nezhad and Kate Knuth.
"It is clear to me that this is nothing more than coordination by the DFL Machine to protect their own, The Mayor, by staging him alongside less popular and less viable candidates," Awed said in a statement.
Joe Nunez, a member of the Minnesota DFL Lawyers Committee, said the group wanted to focus on those who received the most support from DFL delegates given the large field of mayoral contenders and limited time.
"When we decided to do this, we decided to invite the clear top-tier vote-getters in that DFL endorsement contest, which consisted of three candidates," he said. "Our intention wasn't to exclude anyone, but rather to provide our DFL lawyer participants, attendees, the best possible information given who was garnering the support among voters, to date, that we could see."
Awed campaign manager Zev Radziwill said he complained to the DFL last week via a Facebook message as well as a voice mail left for the Lawyers Committee's posted phone number, demanding an explanation.
"Seems very, very odd that the 'DFL Lawyers Committee' would not invite a major candidate who actually has a Juris Doctorate from Hamline Mitchell Law School, but will invite an 'organizer' and an 'environmentalist' instead," Radziwill wrote. Nezhad is a community organizer and Knuth has held several positions addressing climate change.
Nunez denied receiving any Facebook messages from Awed's campaign. The phone number listed on the Lawyers Committee Facebook page links to the DFL headquarters.
When it comes to campaign cash, often a key measure of candidates' viability, Frey has been leading the pack with $384,000 in year-to-date revenue, according to his latest filings. Awed was second, with $238,000 as of the same filing deadline. Knuth had $137,000, and Nezhad had $119,000.
Both Knuth and Nezhad said money alone can't predict election outcomes.
"He has raised more than us," Knuth said. "[But] money is not the only indicator of viability. I think people's votes are, at the end of the day, the thing that matters."
In June, the Minneapolis DFL failed to endorse a mayoral candidate because no contender earned the 60% of delegates needed to earn an endorsement. However, Nezhad received the most support with 53.1% of votes, and Frey followed with 40.3%. The rest, 6.6% of delegates, voted "no endorsement."
However, a closer look at the convention shows that Frey, Nezhad and Knuth received the lion's share of votes across five rounds of voting. In that final round, before Knuth was eliminated, she had 859 votes, or 29.3%, to Awed's 23, or 0.8%.
Frey campaign manager Joe Radinovich said the mayor welcomes the participation of all 17 candidates in the race. "With over a dozen anticipated forums throughout the campaign, we respect host organizations' decisions, deadlines, and standards for candidate participation," Radinovich said.