City Pages on Election Night

With seven new council members, a new mayor, and the disappearance of the longtime power brokers within city hall, it's clear that on this night, Minneapolis politics has changed radically. In retrospect, the primary loss by Second Ward DFLer Joan Campbell--who along with Cherryhomes and Sayles Belton made up a triumvirate that guided city hall for much of the 1990s--foreshadowed the demise of the DFL's lock on the city.

And then, of course, there's Brian Herron. He's not present tonight, but he might as well be: His former aide Vickie Brock pays a post-election visit to the mayor, as she did on primary night. The fact that Sayles Belton and Cherryhomes rallied around Brock and urged her to run for Herron's seat just after his resignation did not sit well with many voters. In turn, the two city leaders were unable to distance themselves from the scandal.

But in fact, the cracks in the DFL's foundation began showing statewide in 1998, when gubernatorial candidate Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III finished third behind Norm Coleman and Jesse Ventura. (Some would look even further back, to 1994, when then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman lost the gubernatorial endorsement to John Marty, a state senator from Roseville.) Locally, those cracks appeared in Minneapolis last summer, when Rybak stymied Sayles Belton's bid to get the party's endorsement.

The old guard: Jackie Cherryhomes and Sharon Sayles Belton
Craig Lassig
The old guard: Jackie Cherryhomes and Sharon Sayles Belton

At the Shrine Center, some campaign workers are complaining about Rybak, rehashing their belief that he made racist comments throughout the campaign, or that he cut a deal with the police union to get an endorsement, or that he attacked Sayles Belton personally. But the mayor is having none of it.

"I've always known that three terms for a mayor is unusual," she concedes. "The fact is, when I was out campaigning today, I didn't think about whether I was going to lose or not, because I was just energized by all the people around the city. I started at 5:30 this morning and went right up until the bell at 7:50 tonight. I told people, 'Didn't we have some fun!'"

She continues, grabbing the hand of a woman who just approached her. "I realized today that I've been in public service for 18 years, and I've been a volunteer in this community since I was 15 years old. I don't know what I'll do just yet, but I'll continue to serve Minneapolis."

The woman interrupts, asking the mayor if she can pull strings to get a pool in Powderhorn Park. The attempt to curry favor on a night like this seems tacky, but Sayles Belton says she'll do her best. "I'll plant the seed," she tells the woman. "I don't know that I can cultivate the seed now, but I'll plant it."


Ballroom Blitz


At first glance the ballroom in the Saint Paul Hotel appears to have all the buoyant energy of a campaign on the cusp of ascension. Supporters of DFL-endorsed St. Paul mayoral candidate Jay Benanav crowd the room, sipping light beer and diet cola and pressing the flesh. A mix of music being piped into the ballroom offers a peppy--if dated--Eighties pop beat (think Van Halen, the B-52's, early Madonna).

The gathering is so enticing, in fact, that out-of-town hotel guests have stopped in to await election results--never mind that they have no idea who Benanav is or, for that matter, what DFL stands for.

Yet underneath the upbeat veneer is a sense of foreboding. The campaign staff, in a quaintly low-tech manner, infrequently scrawls vote tallies on an overhead transparency. Frustratingly, the reports perpetually lag behind the buzz in the room, as supporters whisper to each other more recent totals that threaten to solidify opponent Randy Kelly's win.

Benanav himself is almost completely absent from the affair, stepping onstage for only a couple of minutes on two occasions. In an odd twist, John Brodrick, Toni Carter, and Elona Street-Stewart, the three DFL candidates for St. Paul School Board--which in most years would be a less watched race than that for mayor--are cheerily ubiquitous as they share the hotel ballroom's election-night headquarters. But then again, their winning races are enjoying a closure that Benanav's isn't. (It will be days before the city-council member concedes the close election, even though Kelly immediately begins a media blitz as mayor-elect.)

Election night ends with a plea to stay tuned. "We may be going into extra innings," the candidate says after 11:00 p.m. "We're going to look at the numbers in the morning, and we'll get back to you." Lingering supporters watch on TV as Kelly delivers his acceptance speech at a steakhouse a couple of miles up the street.


West Seventh Shema


"I want all the Catholics here to say a Hail Mary," lame-duck Mayor Norm Coleman implores the faithful crowded into Mancini's Char House, site of St. Paul political fetes for decades. Election night has just ticked past 10:30 p.m., and the race to succeed him is still too tight to call. "I want the Jews to say a Shema; I want the Buddhists to do a chant; I want everyone to get on their knees and pray."

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