by Bill Lindeke
Four years ago, the Green Party was celebrating a sea change. Unlikely mayoral challenger R.T. Rybak had just defeated a solid DFL incumbent by relying on the support of independents, rebellious Democrats and the Green Party. And those same Green-leaning voters had come out in unprecedented numbers for Council candidates throughout the city, electing the scruffily unorthodox Dean Zimmermann over a well-groomed opponent, pulling in big numbers in South Minneapolis, and nearly almost (but not quite) electing Cam Gordon in the progressive 2nd Ward. But probably the biggest upset occurred on the least-traditional Green Party turf, the Northside, where neighborhood fixture Natalie Johnson-Lee defeated Council President Jackie Cherryhomes by a nano-thin margin of 72 votes. Add to the millennial mix such third-party success stories as Ralph Nader’s showing in the 2000 presidential race or Jesse Ventura’s comic-book term in office, and Minneapolis seemed to be part of a trend that would finally challenge a politically ingrained two-party structure.
year things have changed, and the Green Party is fighting hard just to keep
from slipping back into outsider status. The two Green incumbents on the City
Council are locked in difficult races, and with the retirement of independent
Barret Lane in the 13th Ward, there’s a real possibility that the DFL
“establishment” candidates will sweep the Minneapolis elections
for the first time in decades. But due to vagaries of the local electorate,
it could also take a progressive swing. Unexpected turns of events will ultimately
reveal a great deal about the challenges third parties face when establishing
themselves in America.
First, it’s safe to say that Minneapolis’ political landscape has
shifted since 2001, that the old labor-backed power circles have grown more
fractured. The new political crop—Mayor Rybak, along with Council members
Robert Lilligren, Don Samuels and Paul Ogren—are more grassroots-savvy
than the old Sayles-Belton/Jackie Cherryhomes coalition. As a result, when candidates
have campaigned this summer, it’s been harder for outsiders to make the
case that the system needs a radical correction. Plus, at the national level,
Democrats are highly unified in the face of Republican control of both the White
House and Congress.
Greens, for their part, are aware that the tone has changed in city politics.
Cam Gordon, who served a term as Green Party chair, admitted that “campaign
finance hasn’t been as much of an issue this time around.” He pointed
out that the Green Party didn’t endorse Ralph Nader in last year’s
presidential election, and that David Cobb, who did get the Green endorsement,
promised not to launch an all-out campaign in the swing states (such as Minnesota).
But, Gordon said, “Greens are having success by sticking to their core
principles of grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and social justice.”
It remains to be seen whether that message is enough to undo the damage of Bush
vs. Gore and sway uneasy Democrats over to a third party.
A more troubling prospect is that the Minneapolis political landscape hasn’t
just shifted metaphorically, it has shifted literally. Lurking underneath this
year’s election is a decennial redistricting plan that has literally changed
the lines of Minneapolis’ thirteen wards, and shifted most Council seats
to the right.
“The redistricting process isn’t meant to re-draw entire districts.
It’s a process that happens after every census, where you account for
changes in population,” said incumbent 6th Ward Councilmember Dean Zimmermann.
“Typically you make some changes around the edges, and keep the old wards
largely intact. That’s not what happened,” he told Pulse.
has good reason to be upset by the new district boundaries. When the new map
was approved, without public input, his house was sitting on the other side
of his ward boundary. Particularly troubling, Zimmermann said, is that the lead
architect of the new map had served as campaign manager for Dean Kallenbach,
the DFLer Zimmermann defeated in 2001. While Zimmermann isn’t floating
any outright conspiracy theories, he candidly suggested that the redistricting
decision looks like dirty politics.
While the 2001 commission that drew up the new City Council map was bi-partisan,
the Green Party, clearly Minneapolis’ second most influential group, only
had one representative. That was due to a technicality in the city charter,
which granted seats on the commission according to the largest statewide parties.
Back in 2001, those rules meant multiple appointments from the DFL, the Republicans
and even the new-found Independence party.
Needless to say, that kind of ideological distribution doesn’t fit the
typical Minneapolis voter profile—combined, the Republican and Independence
parties polled a mere 2 percent of the final 2001 city vote. That those parties
held five seats on the commission while the Green Party had only one seat is
an injustice that should go down in the annals of unrepresentative democracy
… that is, if it is remembered at all.
Faced with the newly redistricted Minneapolis map, Councilmembers Johnson-Lee
and Zimmermann, along with a handful of concerned citizens, filed a lawsuit
accusing the commission of gerrymandering the city map. But challenging redistricting
in court is notoriously difficult. The law requires that wards be contiguous,
simple and representative, which are all subjective terms. Zimmermann, who was
involved in the lawsuit, alleges that the ’02 Ward map failed on multiple
counts. “First of all, it packs the fifth ward,” Zimmermann told
Pulse. “Now, if you look at it, you’ve got an 80 percent minority
ward.” At the time, Johnson-Lee was more pointed, and called the new ward
boundaries “racist and classist.”
There are a number of other allegations against the new city map, like the questionably
long and skinny 3rd Ward running along the river in Northeast, or the shifted
8th Ward, where almost half of its primary votes came from the (wealthiest)
two of its 10 precincts. But despite the litany of argument, the judge deciding
the redistricting case ruled against Johnson-Lee, Zimmermann and their coalition
of litigants. The ‘02 redistricting map was upheld, and it, as much as
anything, is the reason why the political landscape for this election looks
so different from the one four years ago.
This year, Greens haven’t spent much time campaigning on the redistricting
trickery. Behind the scenes, though, it continues to be a nagging irritant causing
many a sleepness night for affected Green candidates. And,
as Woody Allen famously quipped, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t
mean they’re not out to get you.” U.S. House Majority Leader Tom
Delay’s recent indictments involve redistricting in his home state of
Texas, where the Republican majority gerrymandered up to seven new congressional
seats for the last election. Just the possibility that the same thing might
be happening in the grassroots stronghold of Minneapolis is a troubling thought.
Nowadays, however, the battle over redistricting is but a burning memory. As
a result, Zimmermann and Johnson-Lee are locked in close races against incumbent
opponents, and there’s a very real chance that Greens will lose representation
on the City Council. Faced with the prospect of a one-party town, Zimmerman
sounded defiant. He pointed to better-than-expected success in the mayor’s
race, where Green upstart Farheen Hakeem pulled in 14 percent of the vote. “The
Green Party is the only political party in this country that’s growing,”
he said. “No matter what happens, we’re going to be here. Our platform
and our values represent the mainstream of American thinking,” Zimmermann
In the short term, though, the Green Party is sitting on the brink of either
relevance or obscurity. There’s a big difference between merely polling
well and winning a seat on the City Council. At the moment, all three top-tier
Green candidates—Zimmermann, Johnson-Lee and Gordon—are confident
they’ll win on Nov. 8. If they do, the Green Party will have done much
to solidify its legitimacy as a voice within Minneapolis politics. On the other
hand, if the new ward boundaries translate into a DFL sweep, Cam Gordon believes
that something important will be lost. “That would be tragic for the political
conversation in Minneapolis,” Gordon said. “A level of accountability,
ideological diversity and an independent voice in City Hall would disappear.”
2005 Minneapolis City Election Round-up
THE ISSUES: With the controversial redistricting map shifting most ward
races to the right, this election is a rematch of the same interest groups from
2001. The Minneapolis Police Federation and other important unions are putting
a lot of time and money into changing the tone at City Hall. The
Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) has come under a lot of fire from the community,
and many of the new Council members are advocating change within the MPD.
As always, real estate development money is flowing into campaign coffers, while
a lot of the real work is happening door to door. Thanks partly to well-funded
incumbents, many of the City Council races aren’t very close, particularly
in Wards 1, 4, 7 and 11.
Also, a group called Minneapolis Park Watch (MplsParkWatch.org)
is aiming to remake the city’s independent Park Board. According to the
grassroots group, the Park Board has spent the last few years wasting money
on boondoggles, giving away irreplaceable park land, and slowly privatizing
St. Paul Mayor
CHOICES: After Green Party candidate Elizabeth Dickinson was eliminated
in the primary, incumbent Mayor Randy Kelly and DFLer Chris Coleman remain in
the race. Before the 2004 presidential election, DFLer Kelly called a press
conference to announce his support for Republican President George Bush over
Democratic challenger John Kerry. Recently he called another press conference
to announce that St. Paul voters shouldn’t vote for Coleman out of anger.
According to pollsters, a majority of St. Paul voters are angry, and the Kelly
endorsement of Bush is a big reason why they will be voting for Chris Coleman.
ISSUES: Lots of suburban money is commuting its way to St. Paul proper in
this race, with Kelly receiving 58 percent of suburban money for his campaign,
and Coleman getting 30 percent. Coleman received the DFL endorsement, and has
the support of former Mayor George Latimer, and the entire St. Paul state legislative
delegation, all of whom are DFLers. Kelly is endorsed by former St. Paul City
Councilmembers Vic Tedesco, Len Levine and Ron Maddox, as well as U.S. Senator
Norm Coleman, and the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. Coleman’s vision for
St. Paul includes more affordable housing, a sustainable energy policy for the
city, and Kelly wants to keep taxes down and cites his progress on transportation
issues such as the Phalen Corridor and Shepard Road.
CHOICES: This year marks a rematch of the 2001 election, with Hennepin County
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin taking the place of old ally Sharon Sayles-Belton
against incumbent Mayor R. T. Rybak. While these two candidates don’t
stand that far apart on the issues, they stand far apart on the stage during
McLaughlin lambasts Rybak for not doing enough on public safety while Rybak
talks about his “vision for the future.”
THE ISSUES: Rybak took office in the worst of times, with the state cutting
city funding, and the budget in a mess. Both candidates support downtown development,
mass transit and a publicly-funded baseball stadium. McLaughlin has been boosted
(ever so slightly) by the support of the Minneapolis Police Federation, although
Rybak counters that he will work to hire more police officers and continue to
increase diversity within the police department.
CHOICES: After losing by 108 votes only four years ago, Green Party candidate
Cam Gordon is running a tight race against well-connected, well-funded DFLer
Cara Letofsky. Both
have spent years working in the neighborhood. Gordon is the more passionate
speaker, while Letofksy excels at political organizing. Letofsky used to head
the DFL-leaning Progressive Minnesota, and is married to a DFL legislator.
THE ISSUES: Both Gordon and Letofsky express concerns about building
bridges between the ward’s neighborhoods and the University of Minnesota.
Both are supportive of liveability issues, environmentalism and economic justice.
Maybe the biggest difference between them is campaign finance: Gordon doesn’t
accept contributions from real estate developers, Letofsky does.
CHOICES: The race between Green Party up-and-comer Aaron Neumann and DFL-endorsed
Diane Hofstede is a real David and Goliath struggle. Hofstede
is a well-financed executive who is responsible, in large part, for the new
downtown Minneapolis Library. Neumann is known as a strong neighborhood advocate,
environmental and social justce activist, and passionate campaigner. Full
disclosure: Neumann currently works for Pulse.
THE ISSUES: Neumann’s campaign issues are a lot like fellow Green
Party member, Dean Zimmermann—fair and low-cost housing, alternative energy
and police department reforms. Hofstede, almost a polar opposite, talks about
her experience in balancing budgets and keeping a lid on taxes. Neumann has
been campaigning heavily in Northside precincts, while Hofstede is focusing
on the newly-swank riverside developments and the old labor base.
CHOICES: The first of two “redistricting” races, the two African-American
City Council incumbents are facing off in a campaign that’s been fraught
with inflammatory negativity. PEACE Foundation head and Rybak ally Don Samuels,
who won a special election over a DFL endorsee with the help of Greens and Green-leaners
from NE Minneapolis in Ward 3, is
running against outspoken Green Party incumbent, Natalie Johnson-Lee.
THE ISSUES: In theory, public safety and economic development are the
two biggest issues in this Northside ward, which has seen a leap in crime lately.
Samuels places strong emphasis on community policing, and holds day-long vigils
each time a murder occurrs on his turf. Johnson-Lee talks a lot about economic
justice, and holding City Hall accountable for unequal distribution of resources.
But, unfortunately, this campaign has been all about “he said, she said,”
as the two have been making pointed barbs at each other’s perceived biases
and campaign tactics.
is the other “redistricting” race, where incumbent Green Dean Zimmermann
is running against first-term DFLer, and City Council Vice President, Robert
Lilligren. Zimmermann, a handyman by trade, is an iconoclastic social justice
advocate. Lilligren, who is both Native American and gay, is an articulate small-time
real estate developer.
THE ISSUES: Development, parking and transit are big deals in this ward.
Both candidates are passionate supporters of transit infrastructure, though
Zimmermann places higher priority on alternative energy. Lilligren is dead set
against the controversial 35-W access project, while Zimmermann suggests it
could be done without destroying existing homes. Lilligren does talk about public
safety, but Zimmermann repeatedly emphasizes long-term sustainability and making
“a world safe for our great-grandchildren.”
this open seat, Park Board member Marie Hauser is running against civil rights
attorney Elizabeth Glidden in a close race. Hauser has received a slew of labor
endorsements, and Glidden has the support of most of the neighborhoods west
of 35W. The 8th Ward is a “majority-minority” ward, so either candidate
will have to focus heavily on economic development issues and police tensions.
THE ISSUES: Hauser got into hot water by distributing iffy literature
during the primary. The offended party, third-place finisher Jeff Hayden, has
since campaigned for Glidden, who touts experience with building diverse coalitions.
In addition, Hauser, who has nursing credentials, has come out belatedly against
the citywide smoking ban after Glidden had publicly supported it.
CHOICES: First-term incumbent Gary Schiff is facing a challenge from Green-endorsed
mechanical engineer Dave Bicking. Schiff
is one of the more independently-minded Councilmembers, while Bicking is a union
member, veteran and small business owner who has been involved in the peace
movement as well as his neighborhood for decades.
THE ISSUES: Both are progressive candidates, and don’t have large
differences of opinion on issues of small-business support or controlling city
development. Bicking has been campaigning heavily against public money for a
new downtown stadium, though Schiff doesn’t support the stadium either.
Bicking is a lifelong peace and justice advocate, and wants to ensure police
accountability in the city.
CHOICES: This open seat is a close race between two DFLers, Ralph Remington
against Scott Persons. Persons
is a longtime Democrat and businessman, and a self-proclaimed pragmatist. Remington,
who is one of the few African-Americans running for local office, is a nonprofit
THE ISSUES: Putting some reins on real estate development is the big
issue in this ward, and both candidates have been campaigning on the issue of
controlling building height. However, Persons seems more willing to compromise
with developers. For example, he’s quite in favor of the controversial
35-W “access project,” that would remove some freeway-side houses
to add new onramps to an expanded Lake Street. Another difference is that Remington
has refused to accept developer money in his campaign.
CHOICES: A match-up between independent candidate Kevin McDonald, a
pollution expert and incumbent DFLer Sandy Colvin Roy.
THE ISSUES: McDonald is talking a lot about campaign financing, an issue
that’s been put on the back burner elsewhere in the city. He accuses Colvin
Roy of being too unabashedly pro-development and taking loads of campaign money,
while he has made a campaign pledge to reject contributions from developers
and their contractors. McDonald is very pro-union, as is Colvin Roy. Colvin
Roy takes credit for being good at neighborhood concerns and compromises, such
as the LRT launch in this ward.
CHOICES: DFL and Rybak-supported Betsy Hodges is running against ex-councilmember
and ’01 Mayoral candidate Lisa McDonald in this Southwest ward, which
hasn’t elected a DFL-endorsed candidate in over a decade.
THE ISSUES: Airport noise is a big deal in South-West, and these two
candidates differ over MSP’s new runway. McDonald, who is famously independent
and experienced, has toned down her usual high-strung rhetoric for this race,
emphasizing education and better city management. Hodges has been promising
to tackle the city’s pension problems. ||