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.

In 1990 Mondale ran for state senator in District 44 and won by a slim margin, representing Hopkins and St. Louis Park as a DFLer. (At the time it was the most expensive state Senate contest ever.) He won reelection handily in 1992 but chose not to run again in 1996. Instead, he ran for governor in 1998. The news media had a field day with what was quickly dubbed the "my three sons" race; Mike Freeman and Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III, sons of famous politicos Orville and Hubert, respectively, were also running for the DFL endorsement. Mondale came in fifth. The poor showing stung. Mondale quit politics and went into e-commerce.

In addition to the Met Council chairmanship--in theory a $50,000-a-year part-time job--Mondale is the president of the Eden Prairie-based RedtagBiz.com, an Internet firm that buys consumer goods from manufacturers and sells them to retailers. He, his wife Pam, and their three children, Amanda, Berit, and Louie, live in what he calls "an economically and ethnically diverse" neighborhood in St. Louis Park.

Mondale concedes that sometimes he can't distance himself from his father's reputation. "Most sons and daughters of politicians do not seek out public lives," he insists. "But our family was fortunate in that there was never a hint of scandal [surrounding] anything my parents did, and that leaves a better taste in your mouth."

John Vogt

Mondale has his father's angular nose, heavy-lidded eyes, and a thick, short crop of strawberry blond hair. And though he is tall and stocky, from time to time he still resembles someone stuck in the middle of adolescence. He spends most of his free time taking his kids to soccer, hockey, or baseball practices. And when the topic turns to public policy, he will grow excited and stammer a staggering litany of theories, laws, and statistics. It's hard not to be impressed by his quick intellect, but his charisma can be fleeting.

He's a sucker for details, and has his father's almost corny, romantic vision of public service as a calling. For Ted Mondale, Livable Communities is a crusade. "What we are talking about here is not a revolution," says Mondale. "What we are talking about is balance. We're talking about looking at what the needs are actually going to be, and bringing the services that will keep things moving forward. We are bringing up things that weren't talked about before, such as affordable housing, and now is the time to do that.

"My goal is simple," he continues. "We shouldn't throw away our communities."

 

After word of her standoff with Mondale got around, Awada claims, she fielded encouraging calls from several metro-area mayors congratulating her for "uncovering the truth." It's a sure sign, she says, that the cracks are beginning to show in Mondale's vision. "He's just not listening to us out here," she says. "I don't want to say there's going to be an uprising, but, in the suburbs, people are going to get angry with this new urbanism.

"You can't change people's lifestyles," she continues. "You can try to force us to walk or bus, but I have four kids and two jobs. Nobody goes straight home from work. That's just not how the world works anymore."

Ed Goetz, an urban-planning professor at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, disagrees. Awada may have trumped Mondale in legal terms--indeed, Goetz describes Livable Communities as "toothless"--but in terms of public policy she is out of step with other mayors in the region, he says. "There's a trend now toward suburbs having high-density housing," he notes. "The goals set out by the Met Council won't necessarily lead to an increase. But at least now it has got us talking about affordable housing."

Last month the Met Council announced that four municipalities--Blaine, Golden Valley, Maple Grove, and Edina--had agreed to allow the agency to create 75 units of public housing within their borders. Although the units are not the result of Livable Communities, the announcement was particularly noteworthy for two reasons. In the early Nineties, Maple Grove developed a reputation as hostile to low-income housing. The city was sued twice by developers who charged that citizen fears of increased crime were allowed to torpedo their affordable projects (both suits were settled). Two federal investigations also examined the city's housing policies.

Just as significant is the participation of Edina, which was motivated to agree to build low-income housing by its business leaders. The city's largest employer, Fairview Southdale Hospital, had complained that it was having a hard time recruiting and keeping workers because there was nowhere nearby where they could afford to live.

"Reality is changing the way businesses are looking at things," says Mondale. "They need entry-level workers living nearby, and for the first time the business community is thinking about housing. I mean, if we can get Edina, then maybe we've hit the tipping point."

Mike Christenson, head of the Allina Foundation, has worked closely with the Met Council to bring private investment into Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood. He believes that Mondale--a man who dabbled in elected politics and found himself more comfortable in the less glamorous world of a wonky urban planner--just might be the right guy to make such a tough sales pitch.

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