Last Tuesday, as word circulated through Minneapolis City Hall that Eighth Ward council member Brian Herron had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to charges of extortion, eyes were already turning toward his soon-to-be-vacant city-council seat. Herron had often supported Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and council president Jackie Cherryhomes, and his resignation represented a key loss for both of them. This, insiders suggest, is particularly true for Cherryhomes: To maintain her powerful position after this year's elections, she'll need a friendly face in Herron's place.
By Tuesday afternoon she had apparently found one. Minutes before the 5:00 p.m. deadline for candidates to file for the upcoming election and more than an hour before news of Herron's resignation became public, his council aide, Vickie Ann Brock, filed to run for the seat. A Wednesday Star Tribune story stated that Brock had filed "at the urging" of Cherryhomes. In an article the following day, mayoral challenger and Tenth Ward council member Lisa McDonald was quoted as suggesting the last-minute candidacy was the result of backroom collusion between the council president and the mayor. "They knew about this whole thing ahead of time and were trying to commandeer the election process," McDonald complained.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Cherryhomes contended that she had encouraged Brock to file for the open council seat but that she felt Brock had been given no "special privilege," and Sayles Belton said she had discussed the open Eighth Ward seat but had not contacted Brock on Tuesday. Twenty-four hours later, Cherryhomes was retreating from her earlier assertion. At a Thursday press conference, she told reporters that she hadn't used the situation "to encourage potential candidates." A visibly shaken Brock had visited the mayor's office on Tuesday afternoon and said she was interested in running for the vacant seat, Cherryhomes explained, whereupon she and the mayor had "reminded" Brock that the filing deadline was fast approaching.
Amid the allegations and clarifications concerning the election filing, Brock's version of events has been conspicuous in its absence.
Brock tells City Pages that she was encouraged by neither Cherryhomes nor the mayor to run for Herron's seat, and that she came to her decision independently. She has long intended to run for city council, she maintains; in fact, she says, she was being "prepped" to run after Herron's next term expired. "I had every intention of doing this," Brock asserts. "I'd talked about doing this. When [Herron's resignation] happened, I needed to come up to bat. But, no, it wasn't something that was done lightly."
Eleventh Ward council member Doré Mead, who is not running for reelection, says she had a lunch meeting with Brock on Wednesday to discuss the council race and confirms that Brock had spoken previously about running for the seat. "She's been planning to run in 2005," Mead asserts.
Brock says she learned of Herron's resignation Tuesday morning, hours before the evening press conference at Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis at which Herron made the official announcement. (Cherryhomes said during the Thursday press conference that Herron had called his aide en route to court Tuesday.) That afternoon, shortly after 3:00 p.m., Herron and the mayor met to discuss the situation; Brock says that although she was aware of the meeting, she was not included in it. "I knew it was the two of them in there," she says. "That's all."
Cherryhomes and the mayor told reporters Wednesday that they first learned of Herron's indictment and resignation at about noon on Tuesday. According to a city hall source who asked not to be identified, Herron met Monday morning with Al Garcia, a local attorney with extensive political ties. Garcia, a city hall lobbyist, served as Cherryhomes's chief political strategist during her initial campaign in 1989 and is professionally associated with her husband, attorney F. Clayton Tyler.
Cherryhomes says she did not meet with Garcia or Herron on Monday and declines to elaborate further on her role in Brock's decision to file. Garcia did not return a phone call requesting comment.
While Sayles Belton has distanced herself from Brock's decision to run for Herron's seat, the mayor's chief of staff, Colleen Moriarty, held Brock's place in line at the Minneapolis Office of Elections in city hall on Tuesday afternoon. Moriarty says she was there to provide Brock "moral support" at her own discretion, and not at the behest of the mayor or Cherryhomes. She and Brock attended high school together, Moriarty says, and she only held Brock's place in line after Brock realized she'd forgotten her driver's license.
Brock, meanwhile, worries that the circumstances of her boss's departure may jaundice perception of her own candidacy. "Just because I work for Mr. Herron doesn't mean this reflects on my character," she says. In light of Herron's disgrace, Brock is concerned that "by association, people will think I must be corrupt.
"I'm not a puppet," she concludes. "I make my own decisions."