The Diva of Downtown

With her gaudy campaign chest and indelicate manners, Lisa Goodman acts like she runs City Hall. Maybe she does.

In fact, Goodman often contributes--at least financially--to other races around the city, most notably this year, Jeff Hayden's failed run for council in the Eighth Ward and a couple of Library Board races. Some who have been the beneficiaries of Goodman's political mentoring, like Hayden, speak of a genuine gratitude. But it's also thought that Goodman chooses candidates less on the basis of a shared ideology than on the likelihood of their unwavering loyalty to her camp. Several sources contacted for this story argued that Goodman is supporting Mayor R.T. Rybak in his reelection campaign because she can sway him more easily than she could his opponent, Hennepin County commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

Goodman pooh-poohs that notion, saying, "I love the mayor, and I think he's been great for the city."

Lisa McDonald, a former City Council member who is running again in the city's 13th Ward, used to count Goodman as an ally. Goodman is now supporting McDonald's opponent, Betsy Hodges. "I assume she doesn't want me down there [at City Hall] for whatever reason," McDonald notes. "She has told me face to face what she thinks is wrong with me. And you don't have enough newsprint for that."

"'Control' is a tough word," Minn says of what many will refer to--off the record--as Goodman's calculating political strategy. "She does look for situations where she can be more collaborative than combative."

Even so, Goodman arguably carries as much clout as anyone in City Hall--perhaps more than Rybak, who is constrained by the city's weak-mayor system. She educates and lobbies the council for votes with a cunning skill. The Clear Channel/Hennepin theaters deal, for example, was a controversial and complicated proposal. Not content with simply counting votes in favor of the proposed "partnership," Goodman, by many accounts, took it upon herself to explain the difficult financing issues to ward leaders and department heads--effectively selling the thorny deal.

Yet Brown, for his part, doesn't see collaboration as part of Goodman's modus operandi. "She's changed a lot in the last eight years,"' he says, "and to a certain degree it's gone to her head."

 

AFTER THE SEPTEMBER PRIMARY, CHRISTOPHER Clark emerged as Goodman's challenger. (Goodman received nearly 80 percent of the vote; Clark notched just more than 9 percent.) Clark is a 32-year-old political neophyte with a progressive streak who came to Minneapolis from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, six years ago. Seven months ago, he moved into an older rental high-rise near the main post office.

Since then, Clark has become increasingly concerned with what he views as a crime problem in downtown Minneapolis. "It bugs me that safety for downtown residents is something that doesn't come into play," Clark says. "It's a puzzle for the whole city."

Clark also expresses concern for downtown's homeless. It's an issue Goodman says she's "passionate" about--and any conversation with her on the issue bears that out. She was a proponent of Lydia House, an affordable-housing complex in her ward in Stevens Square. And she also speaks in favor of "decriminalizing" homelessness.

The main problem, as Clark sees it, is a lack of affordable housing. "The big thing for me became this whole ordeal about a 50-floor condo development here and another one there," Clark says, referring to a controversial project in Loring Park that involved haggling over rezoning. "There are new condos going up all over the city with no connection to any kind of neighborhood or any kind of affordability."

In decrying the condo boom, Clark is effectively criticizing the main story in Goodman's ward since she took office. Downtown has seen a wild transformation in the last few years thanks to a housing boom that has changed Goodman's constituency. In his campaign, Clark seems to be promising future battles with some of Goodman's staunch supporters. "She has too many attachments to developers," Clark maintains.

Goodman herself acknowledges that much of her campaign largesse comes from people who regularly have projects that may need her approval. Still, she says, "Honey, if I can be beholden to someone for $300"--the maximum donation allowed in city elections--"then I shouldn't be in office."

Indeed, Goodman has at times opposed projects around the city that have been conceived by some of her donors. Stuart Ackerberg, a Goodman campaign contributor, proposed a housing development in Uptown that was to be 13 stories high. Goodman, along with the mayor and others on the council, vehemently opposed the idea, and eventually Ackerberg won approval for a smaller edifice.

"Lisa's not afraid to share her opinion," Ackerberg says. "Bottom line was Lisa's opinion and view was different than ours. At the end of the day, it's just business, and I still have a good working relationship with her."

Goodman doesn't always swoon before big development--she opposed both Block E and the Target offices on Nicollet Mall--but it continues to be the biggest issue in her part of town. Still, there are other issues in the Seventh Ward, especially now that redistricting has added the burgeoning neighborhoods just off the river, north of the Warehouse District. The new ward is seen as increasingly conservative, with a more affluent class moving in. No matter what Clark and Goodman espouse, issues of homelessness and affordable housing aren't likely to be the primary concern for many new downtown dwellers.

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