Former Hodges campaign manager claims he resigned over 'racial slur'

Jorge Contreras ran Betsy Hodges' campaign for just three months before resigning.

Jorge Contreras ran Betsy Hodges' campaign for just three months before resigning. Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

 When Jorge Contreras abruptly left Betsy Hodges' re-election campaign, the mayor of Minneapolis had nothing but kind things to say.

"A talented manager and political strategist," Hodges said of her outgoing campaign manager; she didn't stop there, addding that Contreras is "a great human being of whom I am very fond."

Contreras was less effusive in his own guarded statements about his departure, which coincided with the resignation of organizing director Kyrstin Schuette. Schuette told the Star Tribune she left over a "difference of values." Contreras said he felt the same way, but didn't add details.

Not until this past weekend, when the veteran DFL campaign operative published a Facebook post with the explosive allegation that he'd left the campaign after he was "called a racial slur by someone on the Hodges campaign," one of multiple claims of perceived bias Contreras describes experiencing during his short stint with team Hodges.

He wrote that the mayor and her staff told Contreras he was "not the victim" in the situation, and says he was warned he was a "scary figure who intimidated my staff." 

Contreras adds: "The words [Hodges] used against me were laced with racial undertones that made me feel sick."

Contreras says he "tried to stick it out with the campaign for another 5-6 weeks but I could not even look in the mirror because I knew I was not doing the right thing."

A screenshot of the Facebook post was picked up (with relish) by Anyone but Betsy, a social media repository for anything that might hurt the mayor's re-election bid.

In his writing, Contreras neglected to elaborate with specifics on either the "slur" or the "racial undertones" he referenced. He did not respond to City Pages' requests for comment.

The mayor's campaign did, and quickly. In a statement, campaign communications director Alida Tieberg took the blame for what she says was misinterpreted language. In Tieberg's telling, she was having a conversation with a consultant and Contreras about campaign messaging, when she jokingly said to Contreras (who had hired her), "Okay, comms boy" -- "comms" being campaign shorthand for "communications."

Days later, Tieberg says, Contreras confronted her, saying he was "offended" by her flippant phrase. According to Tieberg, "[Contreras] explained the cultural context of the word 'boy' and why that would be offensive." Tieberg says she apologized instantly.

"[Contreras] also said he understood I did not intend any offense," Tieberg wrote City Pages on Monday, "and he accepted my apology. A couple days later, I reiterated my apology."

Hodges declined to comment on Contreras' story.

The timeline Tieberg provides dates the "boy" incident to around the same time Contreras committed a clumsy unforced error, after a Hodges campaign email account was found to be the source of a job posting for a (non-existent) "Draft Jacob Frey for Congress" campaign. The listing implied one of Hodges' mayoral opponents might seek higher office if DFL U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison vacated his seat.

Asked about it, Contreras first denied any involvement, and suggested it might be an elaborate plot by team Frey to pin the hoax on Hodges. Later that same day, Contreras confirmed it was Hodges' campaign behind the prank, and blamed the incident on "an intern," whom he refused to name.

Contreras has served on numerous high-profile Democratic campaigns in the past, including as an organizer for DFL U.S. Sen. Al Franken and for DFL congressional candidate Angie Craig. 

In his Saturday Facebook post, Contreras says he expects "political backlash" over his post.

"I have already been told by folks from [Hodges'] team that my career is over in this state," he says, "and that they would make sure they go nuclear on the people who resigned from the campaign."