Tedís Excellent Adventure

Ted Mondale thought he could sweet-talk the 'burbs into building their share of affordable housing-- but Eagan told him to get lost.

The ceasefire was short-lived. In September 2000 Eagan submitted its "comprehensive plan" to the council. (The plans, prepared once a decade, are enormous, covering everything from mind-numbing minutiae about sewers, roads, and zoning to growth plans for coming years.) The agency's staff was unhappy with Eagan's plan. The city has some affordable housing, they noted, but had not planned for the construction of more.

Mondale was taken aback. He says he thought leaders in Eagan, Burnsville, Apple Valley, and Dakota County had all acknowledged the need for more affordable housing. Nearby Apple Valley and Burnsville had both agreed to double the number of apartment and townhouse complexes in their plans. By the Met Council's reasoning, Eagan should have planned to build 160 affordable homes and 133 inexpensive rental units by 2010. The agency charged that the city had set aside just seven of 3,500 acres of available land on which to accomplish this. (The plan, Mondale quips now, is "organized sprawl.")

Meanwhile, Awada caught wind that the Met Council was preparing to reject the plan. At her direction, Eagan officials investigated the agency's legal powers and concluded that Mondale had no authority to force the city to build any particular type or quantity of housing. They concluded that the Met Council must provide for basic transit and sewage costs whether Eagan participates in Livable Communities or not. If the agency withheld the funding, Awada threatened in a letter to the council, Eagan would sue. The council rejected the plan anyway.

John Vogt

In November the Eagan City Council met to discuss the issue. A number of residents attended the meeting to complain that they were being priced out of the community. "People who work here won't be able to live here," cautioned one; another said she was "ashamed."

Barb Baker commutes from Minneapolis to her job at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Eagan, where she says she can't afford to live. She gathered signatures on a petition. "There are community members who worked here in the service industry or at entry-level positions," she says. "We are not against all the upscale housing; we are just looking for balance. Eagan has the resources...to be a leader on developing mixed housing. If other folks around us can do it, so can we."

But the city council voted to stand firm, and on December 13, 2000, the Met Council caved in and approved Eagan's version of the plan. As it turned out, Awada was right. Minnesota law gives the Met Council authority to require communities to make their growth plans compatible with regional transportation and wastewater systems. The agency can't, however, force any community to build any particular kind of housing.

In hindsight, Mondale admits that Awada is on solid legal ground. And he's frustrated by that fact. "Housing technically is not part of the regional system, and it would be illegal to reject a comprehensive plan based on that," he concedes. "But these housing requests are not draconian; they are very limited and basic.

"This is not heavy lifting," he adds. "The mayor has simply chosen to veer completely out of the mainstream on this."

 

Though Walter Mondale's role in local, national, and international politics is legendary, his son's history is more scattershot. Ted Mondale was born in Minneapolis in 1957 but grew up mostly in Washington, D.C. At the age of 16, he began racing motocross bikes, winning a sponsorship and working as a "parts guy" in a bike shop.

"Ted was the most impressive downwardly mobile kid I'd ever seen," recalls Walter Mondale. "He liked motorbikes, and that was it. But I tried to stay off [his] back." The only time Walter used his leverage for Ted's benefit was in 1975 after the boy graduated from high school. The elder Mondale got his son a job clearing snow away from rescue stations in Vail, Colorado. "I knew a guy on the mountain crew, and I made him promise me not to do anything for Ted but give him the job," he says, laughing. "Something about shoveling snow on a cold mountain at 5:00 in the morning made him realize you had to work for a living and pay rent and develop skills. After that, he became very serious."

A year later, when Walter Mondale ran for vice president, Ted was given a job with the campaign. Instead of plotting strategy, however, he was in charge of handling campaign workers' luggage. "Which means you are the last one to sleep and the first one up," he recalls. "A lot of times, you'd get into town at 1:00 in the morning, then you'd have to get everyone's bags in their rooms and be the first one to be ready at 5:30."

Ted also worked for his father and Jimmy Carter's unsuccessful bid for reelection in 1980. By the time Walter Mondale ran for president in 1984, Ted's role as a campaign aide had expanded. "I did that campaign mostly as a surrogate speaker," he says. In 1988 he served as the Midwest director of Michael Dukakis's doomed presidential campaign.

"For eight to ten years, I was consumed with elections," he says. "Then I fell in love, got married, and started a family." In between campaigns, he had attended first American University and then the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1985. He went on to William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul in 1988, graduating the day after his wedding.

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