Nine Things We Learned Last Tuesday

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

The lifestyle libs are defined loosely by their embrace of social issues--pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-"diversity"--as opposed to bread-and-butter economic ones. This bloc is concentrated in the southwest portion of the city, as neighborhood polling numbers demonstrate. Though Rybak defeated McLaughlin by nearly the same percentage margin as he beat Sharon Sayles Belton in 2001, the areas where he fared best--taking more than 70 percent of the vote--wrap neatly around the chain of lakes. In 2001, Rybak also scored heavily in the traditionally blue-collar, labor-friendly environs of northeast Minneapolis; this time, some of those pockets went to McLaughlin, the loser. And in the poorer parts of the city, Rybak fared worse than he did four years ago. --G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

7. Out as political forces: The police federation, organized labor, African American voters.

Labor has been a dead letter in national elections for quite a while now, but it had remained a fairly prominent player in select local races. This year the two most heavily labor-endorsed candidates in Minneapolis were Marie Hauser (Eighth Ward) and mayoral challenger Peter McLaughlin, and both lost. AFSCME and other unions had helped McLaughlin stalemate Rybak at the city DFL endorsing convention last spring, when delegates declined to give either man the nod. But that backing did not deliver a lot of votes in either the primary or the general election.

"The firefighters and AFSCME--right out of the chute, they provided the wind at my back," McLaughlin said in his concession speech last week. If their support wasn't enough to carry him through, the endorsement of another major city union may actually have hurt him. McLaughlin was backed by the Minneapolis Police Federation, a once-coveted endorsement that does not seem to carry the weight it used to. This year, 9 of the 13 City Council race winners managed to survive without it. Some observers, in fact, think the federation's endorsement may have contributed to the losses suffered by Cara Letofsky in the Second Ward and Marie Hauser in the Eighth. Why? Political wars inside and around the department in recent years, coupled with persistent and regularly publicized allegations of MPD misconduct, may have begun to erode the prestige of police endorsements.

"I remember when City Hall used to be governed by which faction of the police department pounded the most lawn signs in the last election," says Rybak, who was "happy to have" the federation's backing in 2001. "Now they've just become so negative in the eyes of many voters."

All that aside, the most diminished political force this year may be the African American voter. The turnout this year in traditionally black precincts was markedly lower than in recent years, in both the primary and the general elections. Gerrymandering of districts is only part of the reason the southside Eighth Ward will have its first white representative in many years; residents of the ward's core black neighborhoods simply didn't turn out to vote in the September primary, costing African American candidate Jeff Hayden a place on the November ballot.

In the Fifth Ward, general election turnout was also low, and the council's lone African American rep, Natalie Johnson Lee, was trounced by Don Samuels. (Samuels is black, but it should be noted that he takes care to identify himself as a Jamaican immigrant.) Ralph Remington, who is African American, was elected in the relatively affluent and white Tenth Ward.

Finally, it's worth noting that some of the perceived distaste for Rybak in the African American community plays out in this year's results, much as it did in 2001. Of the city's 131 precincts, McLaughlin only carried 26. All but five of those, when compared with 2000 U.S. census data, were in predominantly nonwhite wards. --G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

8. The DFL old guard turned back a reform drive at the Minneapolis Park Board.

One of the few bright spots for the DFL old guard in Minneapolis was retaining control of the park board in face of a stiff challenge by reformers. The ham-handed hiring of board superintendent Jon Gurban (who hadn't even interviewed for the job, but was a former high school classmate of then-board president Bob Fine) swung the spotlight onto a board ossified into a contentious 5-4 split over issues such as increased public input into board decisions, the leasing of park board property to private interests, and allegations that the fiscal management of the local parks and rec system was shoddy and shortsighted.

While the 5-4 split in favor of the old guard remains, there are reasons to believe the partisan bickering will be toned down a notch. Former superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson, who replaced the outgoing Marie Hauser in the lone change among the old-guard majority on the board, pledges, "I am not going to be in any camp," and does in fact endorse the sort of long-range budget planning favored by reformers. Meanwhile, the three new members among the reform-minded minority are arguably more politically adept and industrious than the previous group, which should help them bring more light and less heat to the reform agenda.

But when push inevitably comes to shove, the old guard faction will still likely be able to count to five on most issues. That includes supporting the construction of a football field for DeLaSalle High School on park board property and the retention of the controversial Gurban for the remainder of his three-year contract. The prospect of allowing more commercial concessions and lease agreements (a Dairy Queen on the lake, anybody?) to increase park system revenue remains a distinct possibility in the wake of last Tuesday's results, as does the likelihood that attorney Brian Rice--who serves both as the board's legal counsel and its legislative lobbyist--will be able to retain both positions despite the potential for conflicts of interest between the two roles. --Britt Robson

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