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Minneapolis DFL fails to endorse in hottest school board race

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

Deep in the heart of Northeast Minneapolis, a winged pig took flight Saturday.

The Minneapolis DFL convention ended with the rarity of no party endorsement in the hottest school board race of the year, a four-way contest in the newly created District 6. And among those going on to the primary, the front-runner was not endorsed by the city’s teachers union.

On Friday, I reported on a citywide board candidate forum sponsored by the African American Leadership Forum and on simmering unhappiness in a number of quarters with the city endorsing process.

In Minneapolis, DFL-endorsed local candidates have traditionally been the odds-on Election Day favorites. And in school board races, particularly in the last two election cycles, the heaviest hitter in the endorsement process is the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT).

The board that is elected through this process oversees the district’s biennial contract negotiations with the MFT. The current board, which boasts members elected two years ago after a widely criticized endorsing convention, recently inked a contract that many community members felt gave the district very little in terms of reforms the district needs if it is to implement gap-closing reforms.

Let’s get the non-news out of the way. The delegates Saturday endorsed incumbents Kim Ellison and Carla Bates. Bates, who is one of two members of the current board who voted against the new contract in March (Hussein Samatar was the other), faced only token opposition — no surprise given her deep roster of influential supporters.

Ellison, who was appointed at the start of the year to fill the seat vacated by Lydia Lee, is running unopposed in the newly created north side District 2.

Now for the surprises. In the brand-new District 4, made up of parts of downtown, the Isles neighborhood and Whittier, the MFT endorsee got the party endorsement. But he will face more formidable opposition than that typically means.

In order to receive an endorsement, a candidate must win at least 60 percent of the delegates. If a perceived front-runner doesn’t have that much support out of the gate, candidates and delegates jockey, cajole, stump and otherwise engage in politicking until one person emerges victorious.

Just to make the process extra unpleasant, candidates are asked whether they will abide by the party endorsement. Saying no typically guarantees one won’t win the endorsement.

In addition to the value the party backing carries in a race where most voters aren’t paying attention to such local races, the backing of a union or other politically engaged entity can help with this process by running what’s known colloquially as the “ground game.”

This can be pretty sophisticated, with campaign managers and supporters showing up with laptops, lists of delegates and intel on who they are thought to favor and why. Or it can be pretty low-tech; any number of firebrands have disrupted the ground game over the years by showing up and giving electrifying stump speeches.

The District 4 endorsee is Darrell Washington, a manager in Minneapolis’ Department of Community Planning and Economic Development who has served on the boards of a number of community nonprofits. In the first round of voting, Washington drew 53 percent, according to the Star Tribune’s Steve Brandt, who was live-tweeting the convention.

His opponent, Teach for America alum Josh Reimnitz, drew 33 percent. A late entry into the race, Reimnitz gave a rousing speech, according to several of those in attendance, impressed a number of delegates with his positions during pre-convention phone calls and even did some good, old-fashioned door-knocking.

And so Reimnitz will face Washington in the Aug. 14 primary. He may pose an even bigger threat to Washington, whose ground game he  spent Saturday studying. “Darrell was wonderfully organized,” he said Monday.

The race in Southwest Minneapolis’ District 6 ended with no endorsement. MFT-favored candidate Alex Phung polled from 33 to 34 percent, while opponent Tracine Asberry garnered 42.5 percent to 44 percent. Curtis Johnson and David Weingartner divided the rest.

The race has been the subject of controversy among district insiders since candidates began announcing earlier this spring. A corporate attorney who does not have a background in education, Phung has no obvious ties to Minneapolis Public Schools.

Asberry taught for 10 years at the late, lamented W. Harry Davis Academy in North Minneapolis, where she was credited with closing the gap in her high-poverty class by 80 percent. She has an Ed.D and a professor of teacher preparation at three local universities as well as the backing of numerous education policymakers.

Weingartner has a history of activism within the district. He first garnered a profile for trying to unite community members in the Kingfield and East Harriet neighborhoods when painful controversy erupted several years ago as school attendance boundaries were redrawn.

Johnson is a track and cross-country coach at Washburn High School. He, Asberry and Weingartner have children who are — or will be — enrolled in the district.  

Several of those present said both Johnson and Weingartner would have had to commit all of their delegates to Asberry to enable her to vault the 60 percent hurdle, while adding them to Phung’s camp still would have left him short.

Weingartner said Monday that he simply wanted to stay in the race. A number of delegates told him they felt that the candidates deserved vetting by a much wider audience, he said.

Filing for the August primary opens today and closes June 5, so the final field should be known soon.

“People did their own thing,” he said. “At least this gives us the choice to keep going. We can keep discussing the issues in our district and that’s what we need.”

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/22/2012 - 11:26 am.

    Let me get this straight

    The underlying concept here is that there is something wrong with the endorsement process. Then the DFLers didn’t endorse in one race and that too is somehow wrong?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/22/2012 - 06:46 pm.

      Does it make sense to you

      that the teachers union is endorsing candidates who, when they win, will then negotiate the contract with the teachers union? This is legalized corruption.

      I admire Carla Bates and applaud her for voting against the contract but even she did it for the wrong reasons.

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