Nine Things We Learned Last Tuesday

Some highlights from the city elections that time (and voters) forgot


4. One clear winner in the St. Paul mayor's race: Minneapolis bar owners.

Randy Kelly is the only reason that you can still smoke in St. Paul bars. Earlier this year the City Council twice passed, by 4-3 margins, smoking prohibitions every bit as stringent as those subsequently adopted by Minneapolis and Hennepin County. Kelly vetoed both bills, and the council never gathered enough votes to override his diktat. Ramsey County eventually passed a watered-down measure that allows bars earning less than 50 percent of their revenue from food sales to remain cigarette-friendly.

Meet the new boss: Chris Coleman celebrates his decisive win
Michael Dvorak
Meet the new boss: Chris Coleman celebrates his decisive win

The end result is that the vast majority of St. Paul watering holes remain clouded in smoke. This uneven playing field has resulted in a financial blow to Minneapolis bars, as many nicotine-addicted patrons have flocked across the river to do their drinking.

With Coleman in the mayor's office, every indication is that a measure more in line with Minneapolis's smoking ban will be enacted. Dave Thune, the Second Ward council member who sponsored the measures vetoed by Kelly, says he intends to bring it forward again. "As a matter of fact, I'm probably even more strongly for it now," Thune says. "It's really time to suck it up and say everybody around here is going smoke-free, period."

Coleman says his first priority is to lobby for a statewide prohibition. "I'm not unmindful of the business impact and that's why the statewide ban is so important," he says. But the bottom line is that Coleman will sign a municipal smoking ban if it ends up on his desk. "This is a significant public health issue," he says. --Paul Demko



5. Negative campaigning didn't work.

The conventional wisdom is that "going negative" is a necessary evil in the political process. Maybe the mudslingers in this year's local races were hopeless amateurs. Whatever the reason, negative campaigns became a harbinger of failure at the ballot box this year.

Up on the north side of Minneapolis in the Fifth Ward, supporters of Natalie Johnson Lee compared her opponent Don Samuels to Adolf Hitler and David Duke. They smeared Samuels with a 12-year-old restraining order that had nothing to do with ward issues, and used a local cable access program to hurl a seemingly endless stream of invective his way. Even after Samuels referred to Johnson Lee's husband as a pornographer, his campaign seemed squeaky clean by comparison, and he won the election amid a depressingly low turnout.

Down at the southern end of the city, overheated rhetoric on the part of park board reformers stymied their effort to win majority control of the board. The day before the election, District Six reform candidate Jim Bernstein was cited by the Minnesota State Office of Administrative Hearing for making three false statements about the record of his opponent, incumbent Bob Fine. Fine handily defeated Bernstein. The judgment against Bernstein, and the inability of reformers to back up their claim that a "slush fund" existed for the current park board superintendent, may well have contributed to the narrow defeat suffered by reform candidate Jason Stone in District Five.

And so it went. In the Tenth Ward, Ralph Remington won the seat vacated by Dan Niziolek, despite the leaking of details about Remington's 2001 personal bankruptcy to the Southwest Journal newspaper. The mayoral races in both cities featured increasingly shrill tactics by both losing candidates--Peter McLaughlin over rampant crime, Randy Kelly on rising taxes--versus the relatively sunny campaigns of victors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman. Minneapolis Eighth Ward council candidate Marie Hauser was the leading vote-getter on primary day, but lost to Elizabeth Glidden on Election Day after it was revealed that Hauser put out literature associating herself with park board candidate Mary Merrill Anderson without Anderson's permission. --Britt Robson


6. In as political forces: Progressive Minnesota, the Somali voting bloc, south Minneapolis lifestyle liberals.

If there was a new power broker in citywide elections this year, it was Progressive Minnesota, the 10-year-old St. Paul-based "economic and social justice" group that successfully lobbied the Minneapolis City Council to adopt a living-wage ordinance earlier this fall. PM saw all four of the Minneapolis City Council candidates it endorsed--Ralph Remington, Elizabeth Glidden, Betsy Hodges, and Scott Benson--win office. They were also vocal backers of Chris Coleman's mayoral campaign in St. Paul. PM's endorsements carried weight in part because the 4,000-member-strong organization provided ground support to its candidates: making phone calls, doing campaign lit drops, and going door to door.

Another relatively new presence on the local level: Somali voters, who were out in full force at R.T. Rybak's victory party last Tuesday night. Two groups, the Somalia Democratic Association and the Somali Business Association of America, endorsed candidates this year. Though actual numbers of Somali voters are elusive, Progressive Minnesota executive director Ryan Greenwood notes, "I saw an upswing in political activism from Somalis." Glidden made great efforts to reach out to Somali voters in her ward, and Rybak says he thinks enough of the Somali vote to have rejiggered his campaign strategy to better reach them after the primary.

For all of the feel-good rhetoric, though, it's clear that there's a new faction of Rybak DFLers emerging in the city, a mostly south-Minneapolis claque of representatives and organizers we'll call south Minneapolis lifestyle liberals. Rybak typifies the breed, as do newcomers like Hodges and Glidden, all of whom live in the wealthy enclaves on or near Lake Harriet.

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