Heads in the Sandbox

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"WE NEED A GIANT sandbox," says Minneapolis City Council member Lisa McDonald by way of summing up the last couple of weeks at City Hall. And it was hard not to wonder, amid the amateur cloak-and-dagger routines: Don't these people have anything else to do? Or is there at least something else behind this?

The answer in both cases is yes--sort of. Part of what's raising the temperature at City Hall these days is the fact that an unusual number of council members are already facing active electoral challengers, many of whom organized their supporters for precinct caucuses this spring. (Because Minneapolis DFLers only choose delegates every other year, this year's delegates will make the 1997 endorsements, which frequently are enough to sew up the election.) All indications are that there won't be a mayor's race--no DFLers look poised to challenge Sharon Sayles Belton, and Republicans aren't much to worry about--so activists will have all their energies to focus on the council races.

So far, only one council member is clearly headed out the door: Fourth Ward representative Alice Rainville has announced she won't run again. Among those exploring their chances to succeed Rainville is her daughter, Barbara Johnson. The council's lone Republican, Dennis Schulstad, is also said to be pondering retirement, though he hasn't made a formal announcement. DFLers are hoping to capture that seat.

Steve Minn (13th Ward) and Lisa McDonald (10th Ward) have been among the current council's most visible members, which also means they've pissed off plenty of people. Kris Brogan, who got the GOP endorsement against Minn in 1993, is likely to challenge him again, this time as a DFLer; in McDonald's 10th Ward, longtime activist Neil Ritchie is counting on the ward's liberal bent to unseat her. Challenges are also brewing for the 11th Ward's Dore Mead (if only because, as pols scornfully remark, she hasn't done much fundraising) and the Seventh's Pat Scott. At least three candidates, all with their own followings in the DFL and the gay community, are testing the waters.

Over north, Council President Jackie Cherryhomes has always been in a dicey position as a white woman representing a largely minority area; she could face a challenge from the supporters of Halisi Edwards-Staten, who's currently giving Sandra Hilary a run for her money in the Hennepin County Board race. And across the river Walt Dziedzic is up for a rematch with his 1993 opponent, Paul Ostrow.

All that said, the election is still 18 months away; what will council members do to occupy themselves in the meantime? Next month's agenda includes the future of the former Sears site at Lake and Chicago, where one developer has already asked for more than $7 million in city aid for a suburban-style mall; the matter of the University of Minnesota's steam plant on the Mississippi River (the latest intrigue involves a proposed city ordinance that is almost certain to run up against the school's quasi-sovereign status); and the proposed riverfront Kondirator, whose environmental review is scheduled to be finished any day now. And that's not to mention lingering details like low-income housing, new downtown office towers, the budget, and 24-hour snow removal. You can see how council members, knowing that any decision will come back to haunt them, would prefer the sandbox.

 
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