Becky Driscoll was in trouble. It was 1971, back when she was the belle of Sacred Heart High School in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, a pom-pom girl, a member of the royal circle at the homecoming dance, and a straight-A student.
Becky's beauty and brains were fortified by grit and ambition. Raised on a sprawling family farmstead, she grew up knocking dirt clumps off a conveyor belt at the back of a potato harvester. By senior year she had overcome her father's resistance to letting any of his four girls operate heavy machinery, and she drove the sugar-beet truck to the processing plant in the fall.
"She was very goal-oriented, really driven. I would say the rest of us were a little more playful than she would give in to being," says Margaret Horken, a former classmate. "All the guys wanted to date her," adds Becky's older sister Dianne. "But she hated it if they worshiped the ground she walked on. She wasn't about to be pigeonholed as just a pretty face."
The trouble started when Becky met George King at a party at Dianne's house shortly before graduation. George, who was stationed with Dianne's husband at the Grand Forks Air Force Base nearby in North Dakota, was tall, lanky, and athletic. He played softball and guitar, and he did not worship the ground Becky walked on. He was, Dianne recalls, a guy's guy, a regular good-time Charlie.
Teenage girls like Becky Driscoll aren't supposed to get pregnant, but some of them do, of course. When Becky told her parents, staunch Catholics, they said they'd pay for a nice wedding, and she and George were married four months after Becky's high school graduation. In 1974, when their daughter Sara was two years old, they separated, and the marriage was later annulled. They haven't seen each other since.
Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans know the rest of the story. They know because Rebecca Yanisch has recast her mistake, and the way she overcame it, as a political folktale that is the heart and soul of her campaign for the U.S. Senate. Early this summer the 47-year-old former executive director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency unleashed a statewide TV advertising blitz focusing on her time as a single mother with no health insurance, worrying about the welfare of her daughter while struggling to earn the college degree that helped transform her into a successful businesswoman and public official. And it worked: Just two weeks into her media salvo, statewide polls showed Yanisch, a political unknown who is making her first run for elective office, with 62 percent name recognition and the lowest negative rating (6 percent) of any candidate in the Senate race.
The strength of Yanisch's campaign has to rank as one of the biggest surprises of this political season. A neophyte who refused to abide by the state's DFL endorsement process, she has nevertheless managed to attract significant mainstream party support. The co-chairs of her campaign are former Congressman Tim Penny and former Secretary of State Joan Growe. Penny, a political moderate who played a key role in Jesse Ventura's transition to the governor's office, was widely considered to be the frontrunner for the DFL nomination before he dropped out of the Senate race in February. Growe's unsuccessful 1984 Senate bid is legendary within DFL circles for inspiring a cadre of women supporters to get involved in politics, and Yanisch is emulating her "Victory Tree" method of grassroots organizing. Meanwhile, through a combination of Yanisch's business contacts and a national network of donors to female candidates, she was able to raise more than $1 million during the first six months of this year. The polls consistently show her with a viable chance of winning a tight four-person DFL primary race on September 12.
One of the keys to Yanisch's success has been her ability to stay "on message," doggedly repeating her personal history to underscore her support of issues ranging from universal healthcare for children to education tax credits and enhanced subsidies for childcare and student loans. As the concluding phrase of one of her TV commercials puts it: "Maybe Congress will solve these problems--if we send them a senator who has lived them."
Yanisch's opponents have publicly noted the size and success of her family's farming operation, implying that she may have overstated her period of poverty for melodramatic effect. (Her grandfather, Leonard Driscoll, was one of the first farmers in northwestern Minnesota to keep his potato crop warm after harvest, a practice known as "conditioning" that produces a more desirable potato chip. Yanisch's father and uncle were able to capitalize on his vision, amassing 7,000 acres--one of the larger independently owned spreads in the Red River Valley.) Yanisch and her sister Dianne respond by pointing out the frugal conditions of their childhood--the hand-sewn clothing and hand-me-downs, the dinners of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese, the cramped living quarters that had eight children (eventually there would be nine) sleeping two to a bed until a substantial addition to the farmhouse was erected when Yanisch was twelve. "It wasn't until I was out of high school that I began to realize how successful my dad was," Dianne says. Adds Yanisch: "Money from farming is not wealth that comes out of the pocketbook. It is an investment you make in the land and the equipment so you can continue farming."
On the other hand, Yanisch is equally quick to mention the love and support her parents provided, and she acknowledges they would have been happy to help her out during the time she was going to school and raising her daughter on her own. "I thought of going to Mom and Dad, but then I figured I made a wrong choice and no one could really solve it but me," she reflects. "They still had seven kids at home, and if I was going to be an adult I had to do this for myself."
After graduating summa cum laude from the University of North Dakota, Yanisch and her daughter relocated to Minneapolis in December 1977. Starting out as a finance clerk in the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority (where she met her second husband, investment banker Stephen Yanisch), she worked a couple of jobs while earning her master's degree in business administration at the University of Minnesota, then spent five years with the real estate consulting firm McComb Group Ltd., doing feasibility studies on major development projects, including the Mall of America. After a stint at another consulting firm, in 1992 Yanisch was handpicked by Jay Jensen, director of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), to be that agency's finance director. Two years later, in November 1994, newly elected Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton appointed her to succeed Jensen at the MCDA.
As executive director of the MCDA for four years, Yanisch was the point person for affordable housing in Minneapolis. Of the four broad-based arenas that form the center of her current campaign (education, healthcare, affordable housing, and farm policy), affordable housing is the area in which she has exerted the most influence--and the one she talks about the least. This would seem to be a missed opportunity, given that discussions about affordable housing naturally segue into education and healthcare concerns. (A slew of studies and surveys confirm the obvious: Children who grow up in unstable or substandard housing environments are far more likely to get sick and to fall behind in school.) Then again, her record provides ample clues as to why Yanisch hasn't put her tenure front and center in her campaign.
In September 1998, as Yanisch was leaving the MCDA, a task force was convening to address a dire housing shortage in Minneapolis. The city's vacancy rate for rental housing, which had been as high as 15 percent in the early 1990s, had plunged to less than 2 percent. Naturally, those hardest hit by this change in the market were low-income residents, including many working families.
When the Minneapolis Affordable Housing Task Force issued its report last summer, the introduction was titled "From Crisis to Catastrophe." The assessment was fitting. The task force projected that nearly 20,000 units of affordable housing would have to be created over the next 15 years, at an estimated cost of $2 billion; over the previous five years, it noted, the annual rate of public investment in affordable housing in Minneapolis had been less than $16 million.
It would be absurd to say Yanisch caused this situation. Minneapolis's catastrophe is a manifestation of a national problem; among the contributing factors cited by the task force are the growth in urban population, the ongoing demolition of existing housing stock, an increasing income disparity between wealthy and poor, and a declining commitment of federal dollars. Yanisch herself uses Washington's inaction to promote her candidacy, asserting that her experience and her commitment to affordable housing will help reverse federal apathy. Furthermore, at the MCDA Yanisch served at the behest of the mayor and city council and was responsible for carrying out their policies. Had they given her a clear directive to prioritize low-income housing, it's unlikely that she would have refused.
Still, many of those who work on the front lines of the affordable-housing issue in Minneapolis point out that as head of the MCDA at precisely the time when the affordable-housing situation was turning from problematic to disastrous, Yanisch had a duty to alert and educate her bosses, and to use her influence to mitigate the damage. These critics say she lacked either the vision, or the inclination, to do so.
"People working in housing understood we were headed for a crisis and begged the city to do more about it," says Alan Arthur, executive director of the Central Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit provider of affordable housing in downtown Minneapolis. "But there was this feeling that if we built a strong economy, housing would take care of itself, that all boats would rise. Obviously that wasn't true. Housing problems have gotten worse, not better, in this economy. There were fewer multifamily housing projects done by the MCDA under Becky than were done in the Eighties. The truth is, people are hired for the way they think and what they are willing to do. Becky was hired because she fit the political environment."
"Affordable housing was not something she focused on or made a priority," agrees Jo Haberman, a staff member with the Jobs and Affordable Housing Campaign, a project of Family & Children's Service, a local nonprofit community-service organization. "The message coming out [of the MCDA] was that it was a problem that required more of a federal and state role. She could have done much more to fund creative programs and work with elected officials on affordable housing, but it was an area of weakness for her. Her strength was working with big business on economic-development projects downtown."
"I understand that as head of the city's development agency she had to respond to an agenda and that it was about gentrification and a concentration of poverty," adds David Fey, executive director of the community-development corporation Seward Redesign and vice chair of the Minneapolis Affordable Housing Task Force. "That's not to say that the MCDA did nothing. Certainly they were active in the stabilizing and preservation of existing units. But even then, some of the years she was at the MCDA, there was a net loss of hundreds of housing units in the city. That she and her staff didn't sound the alarm on that was really a failure on the part of the agency in its responsibility to the community. I can only surmise that she was personally comfortable with what the city was doing."
Responds Yanisch: "The good news is that there are a lot of people who are very passionate about affordable housing. The bad news is there are a lot of different agendas out there too. During our redevelopment efforts, there are always going to be people who haven't had their agenda met, and they are going to have a bone to pick on it until the day they die, no matter what anyone in a leadership position says or does."
As for the fact that more houses were demolished than were constructed in three of the four years she ran the MCDA, Yanisch notes that "the MCDA is not the only entity in the City of Minneapolis that builds or demolishes housing. Many demolitions are done through the city's inspections department, by private interests, or in other instances where the MCDA has no leeway." In 1998, Yanisch points out, 770 units were demolished in compliance with the settlement of the landmark Hollman federal lawsuit, which called for affordable housing to be spread throughout the metro area. The Hollman demolitions, she emphasizes, were done under a court order, as a result of litigation begun before she took over the helm of the MCDA.
Yet the rest of the Hollman story is revealing: Under the terms of the court order, 88 of the demolished units had to be replaced within the city limits, and progress on that front was agonizingly slow. For that Yanisch blames the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).
Tom Streitz, the government-relations attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis who oversaw the implementation of the Hollman settlement on behalf of the plaintiffs, says that while the housing authority was indeed in charge of getting the units replaced, the MCDA contributed to the delays by passing the buck. "It's important to remember that the Hollman lawsuit was brought against the city as a whole, so from a legal point of view this was not just the MPHA's responsibility," says Streitz. "The ability of the MCDA to bring financial resources together and devote staff time to the problem is a critical component. The lawsuit was settled in 1995, while Rebecca was there, and for the next four years we were very disappointed with the MCDA's lack of willingness to partner with the MPHA to get those units replaced. When she left, only a handful had been done." Streitz credits Yanisch's successor Steve Cramer for helping the city fulfill its obligation.
"During her four-year tenure, the MCDA added 4,000 affordable-housing units," boasts a biography of Yanisch assembled by her campaign. Another piece of campaign literature, a glossy color brochure titled "Real Life," amends that slightly, asserting that "Rebecca added thousands of housing units" while executive director of the agency. Yanisch herself offers a further qualification. "I actually created and retained over 4,000 units," she says.
"Retaining" units is a valuable service indeed; without the MCDA's supportive intervention, they probably would have been priced beyond the range of affordability in the booming local market. Still, the fact remains that of the 4,140 affordable-housing units mentioned on a three-page list Yanisch provides, nearly 75 percent were affordable-housing units when she took over the MCDA.
According to Yanisch, while 1,126 affordable units were actually created under her reign, the MCDA was demolishing about 204 units annually. That works out to 816 units over a four-year span. The MCDA's own records list 641 units as having been demolished. Even if one uses the lower figure, the agency most responsible for new construction and development projects in the city generated a net gain of only 485 affordable-housing units while Yanisch was at its helm. (Meanwhile, a glimpse around the city, from the riverfront to the plans for redevelopment of the Hollman site, reveals a plethora of higher-priced new homes.)
The depth of Yanisch's commitment to low-income citizens becomes even more suspect when viewed in the context of how she and the city operated within the broad definition of "affordable housing."
According to a federally mandated formula, renters and prospective homeowners in a metropolitan area are eligible for affordable-housing funds as long as their household income doesn't exceed 80 percent of the region's median income for a family of four. In the Twin Cities metro, that median-income figure is $68,600, one of the highest in the nation. So a person who earns $54,000 a year is eligible for affordable housing in Minneapolis--even though the city's median-income figure is only $36,000. In other words, as local suburbanites get richer and the metro's median income rises, resources ostensibly earmarked to help the poor get spread thinner. (At the same time, the MCDA offers wealthier households, with incomes approaching $100,000, below-market interest rates to purchase high-priced homes.)
The theory behind the formula is that bringing middle-income people back into urban areas stabilizes neighborhoods and revitalizes the tax base. The result is often urban gentrification that displaces poor residents and catalyzes an upward spike in housing costs. Without question, this is what has happened in Minneapolis. According to the 1995 Consolidated Plan of the City of Minneapolis, 31,156 of the city's 160,531 households--almost 20 percent--were classified as having extremely low incomes, meaning they earned less than 30 percent of the metro median income. The consolidated plan counted 16,380 housing units in Minneapolis that could be considered affordable to this group--a shortage of nearly 15,000 housing units for the poorest of the poor.
This was the situation in the city when Yanisch was appointed executive director of the MCDA in 1994. A year later a task force proposed that the Minneapolis City Council pass a resolution giving priority to residents who earned less than 30 percent of the metro median income. Yanisch vehemently and successfully lobbied against passage of the resolution.
"You have to look at the whole spectrum of affordable-housing needs," the candidate explains today. "Some of the housing we generated was very affordable, and some of it was midrange. When you are looking at tools like the low-income housing tax credit or housing revenue bonds, we can't dictate to the federal government what those goals need to be. Those goals were based on nationally recognized parameters of income limits. So for us to try and use the tools we have in our arsenal but then start redefining the goals and definition of those tools makes it pretty tough. So it wasn't diminishing the importance or the need for very affordable housing, but it was saying, 'Let's recognize reality'--that we are not the only people at the table here and our federal partner has quite a bit of clout in telling us what parameters to use."
Yanisch makes it sound as though the city might have incurred the wrath of the federal government had it directed more money to those most in need. Minneapolis City Council member Jim Niland, who supported the resolution, scoffs at that stance. "There are no prohibitions in the federal law regarding those tools," Niland asserts. "There is no requirement that they be used for those at the higher end of the income spectrum."
Another component of the proposed resolution was a stipulation that the city replace each unit of affordable housing that it demolished. In opposing this Yanisch was consistent: In the early 1990s, as the MCDA's finance director, she fought a similar law that had been passed by the state Legislature, and in 1995, along with other city lobbyists, she succeeded in getting that law repealed. "When people asked my opinion, I said it was like an unfunded mandate," Yanisch recalls. "If the State of Minnesota wants to make that a priority, they should give local governments the resources to meet that mandate.
"I can think of many examples, like the Chicago Crossing redevelopment on Franklin and Chicago, where we're trying to do a project and there are housing units above a commercial storefront," she continues. "The units might not even be occupied, but spending money to replace those units as part of the redevelopment budget often made the project unfeasible." Her point, Yanisch explains, is that the law made it practically impossible to demolish any blighted property that contained some semblance of housing units, because to do so would have been to jack up the development costs exorbitantly.
"I agreed that we should be replacing those housing units," she concludes, "but my issue was, don't do it as a burden on an already expensive redevelopment project. Help provide the resources to make that happen. And let's figure out a way to make it happen in compliance with the Hollman lawsuit, which says, 'Don't add those units back into neighborhoods where there is a concentration of poverty.' Help us figure out ways to make that replacement happen outside the city of Minneapolis."
Karen Clark doesn't buy that explanation. "That's just bogus," says Clark, a DFL state representative from Minneapolis. First of all, Clark explains, the replacement law exempted housing that had been vacant for more than a year, and any project that demolished fewer than ten units. The policy was never tied to small businesses. "It was actually a very flexible statute. It said that Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth needed to do a housing survey to see what kind of affordable housing was available and what kind was needed. Based on that, if the city took down housing that was in short supply, they needed to replace that. But they could do it in a number of ways: If they took down three single-occupancy units, they could replace it with one three-bedroom unit. And the statute was changed so that replacement units didn't need to be in the city.
"If they felt it was unfunded, why didn't they ask for funding?" Clark goes on. "Those of us who pushed for the statute fought hard for housing funds for the city, and we delivered, too." Although not as much as they would have, Clark adds, if they'd received more support from Yanisch: "Under her leadership I don't think the MCDA ever came and made affordable housing subsidies a priority."
There are two ways to make housing costs more affordable for working families. One is to subsidize their rent or assist them in purchasing a home. The other is to try to ensure that they're paid enough to live on. While she was executive director of the MCDA, Yanisch served on the Minneapolis-St. Paul Living Wage Task Force, a group whose recommendations led to passage of living-wage measures at the city and state levels. The purpose of these measures was to require businesses to pay their employees a "living wage"--a sum that would keep a family of four above the poverty line--for any job on a project created with the help of public money. Yanisch, however, argued that living-wage legislation should be applied only to projects where the primary goal was job creation, and not to those where the primary emphasis was community development.
"Different dollars have different goals, and if you start naming other goals on top of that, you are going to end in failure," she explains, again citing Chicago Crossing as an example. "The public investment that was made there was not [meant primarily for] job creation, but to provide retail choices in a neighborhood where people otherwise had to get in a cab to go buy groceries and other things they needed. It was to enhance the livability of that neighborhood. If you mandated that every small retailer had to pay a living-wage job, that redevelopment never would have happened."
Using that line of reasoning, Yanisch was able to help persuade the Minneapolis City Council to make an exception for community-development projects in its living-wage policy. But council member Jim Niland calls Yanisch's concern for small retailers "a red herring," noting that the living-wage measure she opposed already exempted small businesses. He sees the broader community-development exemption as "a giant loophole" for big business. "For example," he says, "the Target store project we're building downtown with huge public subsidies has a community-development exemption."
After the state passed a living-wage law that had no community-development exemption, Yanisch and the MCDA did a semantic end run around it, stating that because the agency's milieu was community development as well as economic development, some of its projects were exempt.
"The City of Minneapolis violated state law on a technicality," charges Karen Clark, who co-sponsored the policy in the state House of Representatives. It was a very embarrassing situation for Minneapolis legislators to have our own MCDA defying the law so blatantly. Everyone else was reporting; why weren't they? We had to go back the next year and add the words community development to the legislation.
"You would think she would want to give a higher priority to businesses that pay higher wages," Clark says of Yanisch. "There's something wrong with taxpayers financing jobs that don't allow people to have food on the table or affordable housing. More than ever, living wage is a women's issue. If anyone needs a living wage, it's working mothers and heads of single-parent households."
"When it comes to closing a big deal, Becky can walk her talk," says former Minneapolis City Council member Steve Minn. In that respect, the capstone of Yanisch's tenure at the MCDA is the development of a Target store and office complex now under construction near the south end of Nicollet Mall.
Bringing a midprice retail store into that area of downtown was long a priority of Yanisch's boss, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton. From the beginning, Yanisch played a central role in making the Target development a reality. Executives from the Ryan Companies, a favorite developer of other Target stores, were enticed into the project after Yanisch made it known early in 1996 that public money would be available. And in large part it was her determination to get the deal done that saw it through a host of obstacles.
Chief among those impediments was the fact that two of the five existing buildings on the 900 block of Nicollet were owned by the Opus Corporation, a Minnetonka-based developer and one of Ryan's biggest competitors. For months Yanisch and her staff worked on the details of the Target project with Ryan while simultaneously negotiating to obtain the properties from Opus. On March 6, 1997, just one day before the city council was to vote on the land swap, the city and Opus reached a preliminary agreement to trade downtown land parcels. But later that week, after the plan had been approved, the city's deal with Opus fell apart. Two months later the city exercised its power of eminent domain and condemned the Opus properties, whereupon Opus sued, alleging that Minneapolis officials had sabotaged a nascent $120 million office-tower project (with no public subsidies) that the company had planned for the site.
Although the courts sided with the city, the uncertainty created by the litigation prompted Target to look elsewhere for office space. Minus an anchor tenant, Ryan suspended plans to build an office tower along with the Target store. The city had been counting on tax revenue from the tower to offset its investment in the project, and although the office tower would ultimately find its way back into Target's and Ryan's plans, at that moment city officials suddenly found that they had committed nearly three times as much money to the project as Ryan--at the time, an estimated $43 million--even as they were short-circuiting Opus's subsidy-free office tower.
Still Yanisch continued to lobby for the project, arguing that it was worth the money to bring a midprice retailer like Target into downtown. Some members of the city council were less enthusiastic. Citing one financial analysis of the deal, Lisa Goodman (in whose ward the store would be built) told the Star Tribune, "[I]t will cost every man, woman and child in the city of Minneapolis $118.01 so some people can carry their toilet paper home. It's too big a price to pay."
Now that Ryan has brought the $76 million office tower back into the deal at its own expense, the disparity between public and private dollars in the project has ceased to be as glaring. Yet, according to MCDA senior project coordinator Phil Handy, the amount of city subsidies in Ryan's Target development will come to $53.2 million (a recent Star Tribune story indicates that a dispute over the value of the land purchased by the city may bump that figure to $60 million). By comparison, the MCDA's entire investment in affordable housing during Yanisch's stint as executive director was $26 million.
"Development still drives planning in this city, planning doesn't drive development," sums up Minneapolis City Council member Lisa McDonald, who was elected just before Yanisch took over the MCDA and who played a role in her appointment. Despite the fact that Yanisch's campaign literature boasts that the candidate "ended a tradition of political influence" at the MCDA and won "wide acclaim for her ability to bring together neighborhood and business interests," McDonald believes that the agency's unwavering emphasis on large developments has led to a perpetual disconnect between it and the populace. "Becky did some good things," McDonald says. "Her staff liked her and she was very supportive of them in that regard. But she didn't change the fundamental relationship between the citizens out there and the agency. And that's what is broken."
In 1994, as a freshman council member, McDonald led a movement to transform the MCDA, a semi-autonomous agency under the control of the city council, into a city department. A year earlier a blue-ribbon panel had criticized the agency as rudderless and overly politicized, too often guided by the whims of individual council members and unable to work in concert with the city's planning commission. The move to turn the MCDA into a city department failed, but Yanisch emerged as the compromise choice for the vacant post of executive director.
"When I first came on as a council member, I didn't believe a lot of the things neighborhood people would say about the agency," McDonald says today. "But they were right. MCDA staff doesn't listen to the neighborhoods. They don't think that somebody else might have a good idea. They work with the same people, and they don't nurture new developers. They are rude to me, so you know they are being rude to my constituents."
Even on the council, that arrogant treatment apparently wasn't limited to McDonald. Near the end of Yanisch's tenure, council member Doré Mead was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of cooperation she was getting from MCDA staff for various routine projects in her 11th Ward neighborhoods. One day, Mead recalls, she intercepted Yanisch in a city-hall corridor and invited her into her office for a conversation. As she began talking about the MCDA's inaction in her ward, she says, Yanisch exploded. "She told me the agency would not provide any service at my end of town until I got on her bandwagon by supporting her agenda on downtown Minneapolis," recounts Mead. "'You vote against everything I want,' she told me."
Scott Dibble, Mead's aide at the time, witnessed the altercation. "Of course I remember it," he says. "[Yanisch] said something to the effect of, 'You are never there to support any of my projects downtown, so why should my staff do anything for you in the 11th Ward?' Doré and I were both shocked. Usually these kinds of conversations weren't so explicit. Doré asked Rebecca to leave, and that was it."
"Rebecca doesn't remember the conversation. She was walking in the corridors of city hall almost every day while running a $150 million agency," says Yanisch's campaign manager Dean Levitan. "It is just a ridiculous accusation by our opponents. This is two DFLers conspiring to attack a candidate who is doing better than the endorsed DFL candidate. We are not going to get into a back-and-forth of what is essentially, by their own admission, a happenstance conversation."
In the late summer of 1998, not long before the city issued bonds to subsidize the Ryan Companies' Target project, Rebecca Yanisch made a surprising announcement: She was leaving the MCDA. In February 1999, five months after her resignation, she took a new job--as a vice president at the Ryan Companies.
"Ryan didn't talk to me until about three months after I left [the MCDA]," Yanisch recalls. "By then I already had about three or four solid job offers. The bottom line is that Ryan is a nationally respected expert on redevelopment. That's something I'm passionate about, and I thought, 'Why shouldn't I do it for the best company in the nation?'"
Yanisch says she took pains to comply with the Minneapolis government policy that requires appointees to steer clear of projects involving the city for one year after leaving its employ. "I probably went beyond the policy in terms of recusing myself from any discussion on any development issues in Minneapolis," she says.
In January 2000, less than a year after going to work for Ryan, Yanisch stood inside Whitey's Cafe in East Grand Forks and announced that her initial bid at elective office would be a run for the U.S. Senate.
For a first-time candidate with virtually no name recognition to stand a chance in a high-profile election, two elements are vital. One is a massive early infusion of campaign funding, in order to convince die-hard political insiders--who are, after all, the only people who are paying attention in January--that you bear watching. The other is a compelling, tightly focused theme for your candidacy that will resonate with voters.
During the first three months of 2000, Yanisch raised more than $400,000, surpassing all of her DFL rivals. (Attorney Mike Ciresi's $1 million tally included $600,000 of his own money.) A slew of developers, bankers, corporate executives, and wealthy feminists dug deep for the Yanisch cause, but a significant chunk of the initial half-million dollars--$15,650 in all--came from a familiar source: Yanisch's colleagues at Ryan. That particular fount of beneficence included 13 checks made out for $1,000 apiece, the maximum individual contribution allowed by law. Other donors making $1,000 contributions included Karen Grabow, a vice president for Target Stores, and Sam Grabarski, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a business booster group.
Rebecca Yanisch's U.S. Senate candidacy may become the most successful development project she has ever put together. Whatever the outcome, it's certainly a far cry from the woman who came to Minneapolis in 1977 with a young daughter, no money, and no health insurance. As the 2000 Senate primary looms, it's tempting to wonder whether, if Becky Driscoll were to arrive in the Twin Cities today, she'd be able to find a place to live.
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