Lisa McDonald vs. Mayor McCheese

A onetime mayoral opponent plots a return to City Hall

McDonald probably won't want to be too relaxed, given that Hodges has the machinations of the DFL at her disposal. Hodges has made a name for herself in the nonprofit world, most notably as a development director for Progressive Minnesota. And she's been co-chair of the Linden Hills neighborhood council. Hodges has also been involved in some insider politics, working as a staff member for Hennepin County Commissioner (and Rybak ally) Gail Dorfman, and as an appointee on a Twins stadium taskforce. "My history has been on local issues where people get involved," she says.

Hodges is embracing the support of the DFL and the mayor, while McDonald is calling herself a "moderate, independent DFLer." It's a tag of ambivalence that is somewhat undercut by the fact she was endorsed by AFSCME and the police and fire unions, which normally march lockstep with the DFL establishment. Hodges is enjoying the phone banks already set up for her by the DFL and Democracy for Minnesota, a Howard Dean-centric organization, while McDonald, a formidable fundraiser, already has $25,000 in the kitty. (Most observers believe the race will cost nearly $100,000 to win, a target Hodges and McDonald think they can reach.)

As much as the 13th Ward looks like a two-horse town, there is a variable: Mike Hohmann, who has lived in Linden Hills for 26 years, is also running. Hohmann claims to be the only true independent in the race, refusing donations or endorsements from political organizations. He's relying instead on individual contributions (a financial sum he won't currently disclose). Hohmann, age 58, is self-employed in the private sector as a marketing consultant to small businesses, but he was appointed to the city's planning commission by Rybak in 2002, and has volunteered for his neighborhood's NRP board. A litany of small public-service stints dot his résumé.

"When you seek endorsements, it's only human nature to be beholden to those special interests," Hohmann says. "I want to avoid any conflict of interest. I'm trying to align myself with the taxpayers and voters." Hommann does have one advantage: Barret Lane endorsed his candidacy over the weekend.

There are a few defining differences between the candidates. Hohmann wants to review how much the city is pouring into affordable housing. Hodges hopes to develop more transit around town. And McDonald emphasizes her environmental leanings.

Yet the three campaigns largely agree on what issues are crucial for the city. All of them list fiscal responsibility as their first priority, given the city's ongoing budget shortfall. They give the obligatory nod to public safety, noting that the reduced size of the MPD is cause for concern citywide, and not just in beleaguered neighborhoods. And they all pledge to maintain a level of basic services that are highly valued in the area: snow plowing, street repair, and the like.

The 13th Ward, which encompasses the western shores of Lake Calhoun and a good chunk of prime real estate around Lake Harriet, has one of the wealthier bases in the city. Because of this, the area can often seem disconnected from some of the urban problems other neighborhoods face.

"The 13th Ward doesn't want to be like the rest of them," says Minn. "People who live there live there by choice. They could live in any of the affluent suburbs nearby, like Hopkins, St. Louis Park, or Edina, but they live there because they are committed urbanists."

So, the question becomes, which candidate can best reach out to the independent-minded voters who see City Hall politics as an annoyance? As Minn notes, there hasn't been a Democrat representing the area for 25 years. (He and the outgoing Lane are both independents.) If the feel-good liberalism of Minneapolis ever had any ring of truth, it doesn't necessarily play well in the southwest enclaves.

"What it's going to take to win is to convince voters that a candidate is someone who will shake up City Hall," Minn concludes.

The current occupant of City Hall, it appears, has taken notice.

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