Back when snow blanketed the land and the 2012 elections were the obsession only of political obsessives, a seasoned campaign watcher of my acquaintance offered a prediction about the upcoming contest for Minneapolis School Board. Thanks to a 2008 shift in the way board members are elected, he ranted, there are parts of the city where you could run a ham sandwich and win if you had the filing fee.
This was hyperbole, to be sure, but geared toward making a point worth considering.
In Tuesday’s primary there were two contested school-board races on Minneapolis ballots. One of them, for a citywide “at large” seat, drew 16,192 votes. The other, to elect a representative of the newly created District 2, drew 2,775.
Incumbent Carla Bates came in first in the citywide race with some 56 percent of the vote. Doug Mann also advances to the general election in that race.
In District 2, which encompasses the city’s Whittier, downtown, Bryn Mawr and Isles neighborhoods, neighborhood activist Patty Wycoff won the most votes, with 60 percent.
Though his office’s website does not post primary turnout numbers, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Richie was predicting less than 15 percent of those eligible would cast votes.
Six from geographic districts
So where does the ham sandwich come in? In 2008, Minneapolis residents voted to expand the size of the board from seven to nine members and to elect six of them from geographic districts. Proponents argued that this would make the district more responsive to portions of the city, particularly northeast Minneapolis.
Critics of what is colloquially referred to as the Davnie bill countered that it would make the board less diverse and create zones where very few votes could tip the balance in favor of unqualified candidates.
This year will complete the shift. Hopefully, someone with expertise both in voting and statistics will sit down with the raw numbers and take a hard look at critics’ second prediction.
In 2010, a racially and ethnically diverse slate was elected, but the new electoral landscape made it easy for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), locked in a bitter contract battle with the district, to block several candidates — in particular a highly qualified, popular African-American woman.
In May, a slate of MFT-supported candidates failed to make it through the city DFL endorsing convention in part because their opponents arrived with fresh strategies. Most dropped out, leaving three people the union had actively campaigned against running virtually unopposed for a few weeks.
Four of the seven candidates on Tuesday’s ballot filed quite literally in the last hours before the June deadline. Two made no public appearances and still polled more than 11 percent each. One could not get through her introduction at the single candidate forum where she appeared and yet managed to garner 15 percent.
Josh Reimnitz, the most established candidate in the District 2 race, polled 28 percent. His main opponent, Wycoff, was one of the aforementioned 11th-hour filers. She was recruited by former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher after several prominent MFT members complained that Reimnitz, a former Teach for America corps members, favored contract reform.
Reimnitz’s endorsements include Mayor R.T. Rybak and three former board chairs, Pam Costain, Tom Madden and Catherine Shreves. Wycoff’s, the MFT, Anderson Kelliher and City Council member Lisa Goodman.
MinnPost profiled Reimnitz; Wycoff has yet to respond to our request for an interview.
Reimnitz drew 782 votes, Wycoff 1,674. Both will advance to the general election.