Laughter and carefree screams emanated from the Seward Montessori School Thursday morning. Across the field at nearby Matthews Park the mood was all adult.
Gathered on the grass were state lawmakers Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. Susan Allen (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), and Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis). They'd convened for the oddest of reasons. Two weeks before the Minneapolis mayoral election, the politicians had come together to throw one of their own under the bus.
Former Hennepin Theatre Trust President Tom Hoch is locked in a tight race with incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges, Councilman Jacob Frey, Nekima Levy-Pounds, and Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Minneapolis). In recent weeks, voters' mailboxes have been deluged with Hoch mailers, sometimes as many as three in a day.
The husband of retired General Mills executive Mark Addicks, Hoch has cast himself as a pro-business progressive. He's been an outspoken critic of the spendy and messy Nicollet Mall renovation. He's ripped city leaders for the constant state of road construction. He's emphasized a love of the arts and abhorrence for the spike in downtown crime.
But Hoch has been lean on specifics when it comes to dealing with the most pressing issues of the day, like police-community relations and racial and economic equity.
His recently released public safety plan, for instance, calls for him to "listen" to all citizens and communicate "with residents more frequently using digital dashboards."
None of these were on the four lawmakers' minds yesterday. Their message was about Hoch's contributions to Republicans.
Hoch gave $500 to the Minnesota House Republican Campaign Committee in October 2016. He's also donated a total of $1,000 to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.
Stanek, who has publicly supported President Donald Trump, sent deputies to the Standing Rock Indian reservation last October, the scene of protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Stanek's decision prompted protests in downtown Minneapolis.
"It's impossible to understand why anyone who claims to be progressive" could make such contributions, Omar said, calling Stanek and House Republicans "anti-progressive, anti-Minneapolis, and pro-Trump."
Lesch said the timing of Hoch's contribution to state GOPers couldn't have been worse: "How could he donate to House Republicans in October 2016, just a few weeks before the election when they were helping, and being helped by, Donald Trump?"
The lawmakers rattled off a laundry list of criticisms. How the state GOP is the dark knight fighting against kids in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. How Republicans shoot down funding for mass transit projects that allow working folks to get to jobs.
Although they didn't say it explicitly, the show of solidarity had a not-so-conspicuous undertone: Hoch is unfit to be mayor.
The legislators said they convened to educate their constituents about Hoch's political generosity.
When asked by a reporter if it is possible for Hoch to campaign as a progressive and donate to GOP causes, the quartet answered unequivocally "No."
In other words, they're accusing Hoch of the worst sin of all: being a Republican.
Yesterday's event was lightly attended. However, Hoch campaign manager Kieran McCarney was there. He understands better than anybody how something like this could sway Hoch's date with destiny into being nothing more than a footnote.
McCarney distributed a four-page document showing political contributions made by Hoch and husband Addicks since 1997. It shows the couple has given nearly $74,000 to Democrats and $1,500 to Republicans.
In a statement, Hoch called Thursday's press event "a baldly political stunt" by Mayor Betsy Hodges' campaign. McCarney was quick to note Rep. Wagenius' son, Peter, serves as Hodges' policy director.
Whether it's a sin to have Republican thoughts in the so-called progressive city, the voters will alone determine.
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