City Councilwoman Lisa Goodman wants it her way

Known as the "second mayor," she controls downtown development

YEARS AGO, a naive businessman in Minneapolis wanted a liquor license for his business. The man approached the neighborhood alderman, who made clear that $10,000 would grease the wheels. The businessman went away, saddened at how his city conducted business.

"That man was my grandfather," William Skolnick told Judge Stephen C. Aldrich in a Hennepin County Court last month, pausing to let his tale of the city's past corruption sink in.

Then Skolnick shifted to draw a present-day parallel. "In this case, the evidence is that Lisa Goodman made sure the fix was in," he said, clipping his words with nasal precision.

Minneapolis Councilmember Lisa Goodman
Nick Vlcek
Minneapolis Councilmember Lisa Goodman
Ward Seven includes some of the priciest real estate  in Minnesota
Nick Vlcek
Ward Seven includes some of the priciest real estate in Minnesota

"The city of Minneapolis trampled all over my client's constitutional rights," he continued. "I am ashamed of what the city has done here."

Skolnick pointed across the room.

"And you should be too!" he belted, jabbing his finger at one of the city's lawyers. "And you!" Skolnick spun around. "And you!" he nearly hollered at the handful of people in the back of the room.

Among them sat Minneapolis Councilmember Lisa Goodman, the target of his ire. With her blond, neatly combed hair and floral-patterned skirt, Goodman looked like a harmless schoolteacher. Yet Skolnick was describing her in language typically reserved for a mob boss.

"What plaintiff has done in this trial is to vilify Councilmember Goodman," said Charlie Nauen, the attorney for the city and Goodman. "He has referred to Councilmember Goodman using the 'c' word and the 'b' word."

Stories of Goodman's strong-arm attempts to control Minneapolis have long dogged the veteran councilwoman. Her tendency to speak her mind and strongly advocate for favored projects make her someone not to be trifled with. But lately, some have been asking whether her zealousness went too far.

"When I'm on your side, I'm really on your side," Goodman says. "Unfortunately, when I'm not, I'm really not."

LISA RUTH GOODMAN moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to Minneapolis in the fall of 1989, along with her good guy friend Kim Havey. After a year of fundraising for Paul Soglin, the Madison mayor famed for protests against Dow Chemical, she wanted to join a statewide campaign.

Goodman got picked up by Paul Wellstone's first campaign for U.S. Senate. She was chief fundraiser until the election, then served for a year as development director of a nonprofit dedicated to college service-learning projects.

Goodman got to flex her political muscles in her next post—executive director of the Minnesota chapter of NARAL, the abortion rights group—which she landed in 1992, when she was just 26.

The position brought her political connections. Goodman's Rolodex grew as she worked with pro-choicers from both parties. Two City Council members—Steve Minn and Lisa McDonald—were board members.

"I loved that job, because you are very clear in that position of who's for you and who's against you," Goodman says.

In 1997, Goodman won her seat on the Minneapolis City Council with 54 percent of the vote, the narrowest margin of victory for a council race that year. She was 31 years old.

From the beginning, Goodman had a clear vision for her ward. Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods were ripe for redevelopment. Before the condo explosion was even a spark, she wooed developers to a blighted block of East Grant Street and Portland Avenue. They were rewarded with Grant Park, the 29-story luxury condo tower that sold out before it was built.

As the market for downtown condos and high rises heated up over the first part of the decade, Goodman stoked the flame. When a builder wanted to develop a key property, Goodman's Community Development Committee had to approve it. If a disgruntled developer appealed a Planning Commission decision, Goodman was on the subcommittee that heard the appeal.

Goodman also cashed in on the market she was helping to fuel. She and Havey bought a condo together in Grant Park, which they sold for $315,000 in 2005. Asked about her share of the original purchase price, Goodman says, "I have no idea—it's so long ago I don't remember."

Even as she encouraged development, Goodman made a point of looking out for neighborhood residents. When developer Tim Rooney wanted to turn two distressed buildings on Ninth and Hennepin into the Chambers Hotel, Goodman told him to take care of the displaced tenants first.

"Tim Rooney helped people move their furniture," says Tom Streitz, former director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, who now works for the city's housing division.

Councilman-turned-developer Steve Minn, who is known to have fought with Goodman but still calls her "a dear friend," says her straight-shooting style makes things easier for would-be developers. He should know—Goodman gave him plenty of warning about the fate of his Pacific project, a boutique hotel, commercial space, and condos proposed for the block behind the Monte Carlo restaurant in the Warehouse District, which got shot down.

"Her first words when I told her about the project were, 'That will not be successful,'" Minn says.

There is no question that Goodman is forthright. The question is whether she's overstepping her authority.

"She has a very strong sense, I think, of what she wants," says Robert Cook, a former board member of the Loring Park neighborhood group. "And beyond that line, I find it difficult to work with her on things."

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