Minneapolis elections 2013

Updated November 4 - I haven't changed any of my first choices, but did update some 2nd and 3rd choices.

The short version

Minneapolis Mayor
1st choice Betsy Hodges, 2nd choice Stephanie Woodruff, 3rd choice Don Samuels.
Ward 12 City Council Member
1st choice Andrew Johnson, 2nd choice Chris Lautenschlager, 3rd choice Ben Gisselman.
Ward 10 City Council Member
1st choice Lisa Bender.
Park Board 5th District
1st choice Steffanie Musich.
Park Board at-Large
1st choice John Erwin, 2nd choice Ishmael Israel, 3rd choice Jason Stone.
Board of Estimate and Taxation
1st choice Carol Becker, 2nd choice David Wheeler, 3rd choice David Pascoe.
Ballot questions
Yes on both.

Minneapolis Mayor

My first choice will be for Betsy Hodges. At the convention I was undecided until the last minute between Hodges and Gary Schiff, so Betsy is an easy first choice. This profile summarizes much of what I like about her - fiscal responsibility, progressive social goals, accountability from city staff.

  • I like that she opposed the stadium project and the burden it places on the city, but I like that she's worked on the stadium implementation committee to make the best of what's been imposed on us.
  • I like her work on pension reform, saving the city millions but not on the backs of retirees.
  • I like her support for public transportation, and for starting the process of re-introducing streetcars.

I hadn't paid much attention to her at first (and didn't mention her at all in the first version of this note), but a couple of people suggested looking at Stephanie Woodruff. I like her focus on open, transparent government, and I certainly agree with her positions on public money funding big, private projects like the stadium which mostly profit out-of-state and out-of-city interests.

I've found it very hard to pick a third choice - there's alot to dislike out there.

There's a few candidates I feel strongly about not ranking.

  • Cam Winton. He's running as an independent, but in the past has donated money and identified as a Republican. Minneapolis is a Democratic city; we don't need to reach for a mayor who rejects those values. Look how well electing Scott Walker as mayor worked for Milwaukee!
  • Dan Cohen. Yes, he's against the stadium, but I'm not sure how feasible it is to get out of the deal at this point - or what the additional cost to the city would be. And when your main campaign pledge is to replace the stadium with a casino…well, you've lost me.
  • Mark Andrew. Before the convention, I was mostly just annoyed with Andrew - he ran a very hard-sell campaign on the delegates, to the point where I actually told one of his callers "What part of 'Stop calling us' do you not understand?".

    That's merely annoying, but his campaign's conduct at the nominating convention really put me off. Seemed like I was peering back into the bad-old-Chicago days of party bosses running their machine, picking outcomes beforehand behind closed doors, and shutting up everyone else.

    I first wrote that Andrews's positions can be hard to pin down, but as the campaign has come to a close his campaign has struck me more and more as outright dishonest. Andrew's more blunt rivals have explicitly criticized him for saying different things to different audiences, and there's alot to that.

    • At a June debate he seemed to support the Minneapolis Energy Options push for a referendum on municipalizing the city's electricity utility (as he did at the DFL convention if my memory serves), and then a month later criticized the City Council for considering a referendum on the subject. What's less well-known is that XCel is one of his consulting firm's clients.
    • There's always the stadium issue. Until recently, it was hard for me to tell where he stood on that. A long time ago he addressed our state senate district's party meeting, and I came away with the impression that he had opposed the stadium deal. It turns out that I totally got that wrong. Now granted, it's possible that misunderstood what he was saying, but I was listening pretty closely, and that's a big swing. The stadium issue is a good example of how hard you have to analyze Andrew's public statements to figure out what he really plans. What seems to be the case is that he's entirely confortable with the public paying for private developments, and would press for millions - possibly over 100 million - of city dollars to pay for another private hotel by the convention center. Frankly, it's hard imagine that a market for this exists: the hotel chains aren't stupid; if such a thing were at all likely to be feasible we'd already have seen one built. We don't need another Block E!
    • In the last days of the campaign, the Andrews advertising has gotten more crassly misleading. While doorknocking I've run across people who've been tricked into believing that Andrew is the DFL-endorsed candidate, and were leaning to support him for that reason alone, when in fact no one is DFL-endorsed. As our outgoing mayor warned, look very closely at the last-minute advertising!
  • Jackie Cherryholmes. She's got the same positions as Andrew on big public underwriting of private projects - she was a huge driving force behind Block E, for example. But to her credit, she's been much more straightforward than Andrew about her position on this. If we had more than three ranking for candidates - and we should! - I'd put her somewhere above Andrew, around the same as Dan Cohen, and below Cam Winton.

My third choice is Don Samuels. He is, frankly, more conservative than I'd like on some issues:

  • He's eager to subsidize private schools with tax dollars. He's aligned himself with suburban, conservative groups whose ultimate aim is to dismantle the system of state-run schools.
  • From his rhetoric, the main thrust of his anti-crime plan seems to be just throwing more young people in jail, which we've seen is not sustainable and doesn't work anyway.

And then there's the stadium. He's too happy to give city money to big private projects like the stadium, where too much of the benefits go outside the city. But I'll hold my nose and give him the 3rd ranking over Mark Andrew: at the end of the day, I'd rather someone who's honest and consistent about some point I don't like, than someone whose statements I find so hard to take at face value, and have to work so hard to parse and investigate.

There's a number of good articles about this race elsewhere, some linked above, plus:

Ward 12 City Council Member

I've been a supporter of Andrew Johnson since the ward convention. What drew me to his campaign was his opposition to the incumbent's vote - often described as the critical tie-breaking vote - to approve the stadium proposal. I've volunteered with his campaign, and as I've gotten to know him I've been more and more impressed at his thoughtful approach to city issues. He already knows the area well from his work with the Longfellow Community Council. I like how his IT background will be a nice balance to the more usual profile of council members. I think he'll be great for our ward, and he's an easy first choice.

Also in the race are a Green Party candidate, a perennial DFL candidate, and two candidates who filed just before the deadline. Of the latter two, one is a DFLer and the other is not party-affiliated but seems more conservative. I'm planning to rank the Green candidate Chris Lautenschlager second, and the late-entering DFLer Ben Gisselman third.

Note that alot of what you'll find online about this race is out-of-date, dating from before the incumbent withdrew. Some of the more interesting (and not out-of-date) stuff:

  • There was a candidates' forum recently, and the video is online. I haven't watched it yet, but the Star Tribune has a summary.
  • Updated October 24. I watched the debate video, and it squares with my feelings about the race.

Ward 10 City Council Member

I don't live in Ward 10 anymore, but I still have an opinion. I was disappointed in Meg Tuthill's vote for the stadium project, and was happy to see a solid challenger running against her. Lisa Bender got the DFL endorsement; then despite promising to respect the endorsement, Tuthill stayed in the race. It would be tremendous to see another stadium supporter who voted to ignore the city charter's requirement for a referendum for that sort of project knocked off of the council.

Kritzer has a more detailed post about this race, and I'm just about entirely in agreement with her.

Park and Recreation Commissioner District 5

Steffanie Musich is running unopposed, but it's worth actually filling out the little bubble on the ballot for her - she's smart about park stewardship and gets her hands dirty.

Park and Recreation At-Large Commissioners

I've found this one the hardest to rank - of nine candidates on the ballot, we elect three. Amazingly enough all nine are in favor of the parks; there's no ruling any of them out because of a bulldozing-and-paving agenda.

John Erwin is an easy first choice. He's a horticulturalist, is an incumbent who has helped push through alot of great programs, and has enough endorsements that even if you don't trust some of the endorsers, there's still all the others.

There are a number of candidates running who have a long (or long enough) background of volunteering with the parks, mentoring kids, serving on local park boards, and grassroots-level community organizing. In this group I'd put:

  • Steve Barland. His record of parks-related volunteering seems longer than most.
  • Ishmael Israel. On the one hand his parks involvement doesn't seem to have been over as long of a period as Barland's, but on the other hand he's from the north side of town, which as far as I can tell has been very under-represented and under-resourced.
  • Jason Stone. He's run for Park Board a number of times. His supporter list includes several people whose opinion I respect.
  • Annie Young, who served on the Park Board since the 90s.
  • Meg Forney, who has been appointed to several neighborhoods' and parks' boards.

Finally, Tom Nordyke seems not to have a website but does have a Facebook page. In my first draft of these notes, I wrote that I'd like to see some details of a platform online. Coincidentally enough, after my first but before my final draft, he did just that, in an October 21 post to the Facebook page. He also has the DFL endorsement, which I don't take lightly.

This race captures in a nutshell what's wrong with how the county is implementing ranked-choice voting. I'm a big fan of RCV in general. It's a great way to solve the problem that under the current first-past-the-post system, candidates regularly win with well under 50% of the vote. Winning office when a majority of the votes are against you is just fundamentally undemocratic. Seriously people, even Louisiana (I moved to Minneapolis from New Orleans) gets the idea that a system where "the majority rules" actually requires a majority! When done right, RCV fixes this by allowing us to rank candidates as alternate choices, so that the runoff and the general election happen at the same time.

But the way RCV is implemented completely fails to let us voice alternate choices in this race. We're picking three commissioners here, but we can rank only three candidates. Ranked-choice is a little complicated when there are several people to be elected, but that's worth it when you can give a good ranking. In this case we can't give a good ranking. In this race there is no opportunity to rank beyond what we'd have had on the old first-past-the-post system.

Our experience with these early RCV elections will shape how people think about more expressive voting systems. I like RCV, and I want it to be implemented well, to show it off as a model that hopefully will be adopted statewide. But under an implementation like we have now, we're showing off a system with extra complexity but little additional expressiveness in what we can say with our ballot. This race shows the faults only of this only implementation of RCV - where we can rank exactly three candidates no matter how many are running, or how many seats there are to fill - but the risk is that the fault will be associated with RCV in general. It's important for the city and county to improve on the number of candidates we can rank.

All that said, right now I'm planning to vote for John Erwin as my first choice, and I'm leaning to Ishmael Israel as second choice, and Jason Stone third.

Some other online resources about this race:

Board of Estimate and Taxation

Carol Becker is a good-government geek. She teaches public administration at the university and is a two-term incumbent on the Board of Estimate. She's sensible and great to have as a check on the mayor and council. She and David Wheeler are the DFL-endorsed candidates, and they will be my first and second choices respectively.

The other two candidates are David Pascoe and Douglas Sembla. I haven't found any details at all about Sembla, except that he's endorsed by the Pirate Party. Even the Pirate Party's website really doesn't say anything about him (nor really about the Pirate Party's platforms, for that matter). Pascoe seems inoffensive, so I'll rank him third.

The ballot questions

There are two ballot questions about rewriting parts of the city charter "in plain language."

  • Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended in the form of a complete revision which (1) modernizes the Charter; (2) redrafts its provisions for brevity and in plain language; (3) reorganizes the Charter into nine articles, and groups related provisions together; (4) removes from the Charter certain provisions for possible enactment into ordinance; and (5) retains the current role and relationships of City boards and commissions?
  • Shall the Minneapolis City Charter provisions relating to the sale of liquor and wine be amended by reorganizing and rewriting in plain modern language?

I'm of two minds about these questions.

Offhand at first, I was very suspicious of the idea - legal language is specific and tedious because it needs to be specific, and because nailing down exactly what's meant is in fact tedious. Aiming for the least common denominator of readability when we write out how we want the city to run seems like a bad, bad idea. And spending city money to re-write the existing code sounds like an expensive way to introduce errors, ambiguities, and changes of meaning.

But then I looked into it (meaning: Googled) a bit more and unsurprisingly found out that there's a little more to it than that. Most of the re-writing has already been done, and has been done in a way that's pretty open, so it's not as open-ended or risky as it first sounded. And it turns out the the tediousness of the current charter is rather extreme, so the whole undertaking is actually reasonable. And because there's a state-imposed limit on the length of a ballot question (and a weird puritanical requirement that anything to do with alcohol must be separate, and get not 50% but 55% of the vote), we can't see anything more specific on the ballot itself.

So right now I'm leaning yes on both ballot questions, but I'm persuadable and will update this post if I change my mind.

Update Nov. 5: I voted yes on both. I read yesterday that there's language in the revision that the interpretations of the old version should be the basis of the interpretation of corresponding new sections. So it look like, in fact, they've been very careful in these revisions not to introduce new meanings, and added that clause just to make sure.

But most of all, get out there and vote!

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