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Five takeaways from the Minneapolis DFL’s City Council endorsement process

What happened. And what it could mean in November. 

An image from the Ward 1 candidate forum. Elliott Payne secured 78 percent of the delegate vote over current Council Member Kevin Reich.
An image from the Ward 1 candidate forum. Elliott Payne secured 78 percent of the delegate vote over current Council Member Kevin Reich.
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Due to the coronavirus, the Minneapolis DFL had to conduct its 2021 endorsement process entirely online. That included the ward conventions, which were held last weekend, though the results weren’t available until earlier this week. The process saw more 4,800 ward delegates vote for council endorsements, a turnout that was more than double that of 2017, when the last city election was held. Here, five takeaways from the party’s endorsements process and what it could mean for the November elections: 

It’s still (mostly) good to be an incumbent

In order to win an endorsement from the city’s dominant party, candidates needed at least 60 percent of the vote in the final round of ranked choice voting. If no one clears that threshold, no one is endorsed in the race.

Council Member Phillipe Cunningham
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham
Five of the seven DFL endorsements announced this week went to incumbents currently on council: Phillipe Cunningham tallied 63 percent in the Ward 4 endorsement contest; Lisa Goodman — the longest tenured current Minneapolis City Council member — managed to get 61.6 percent of the vote for the Ward 7 endorsement; Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins got 76.3 percent in the Ward 8 fight; Andrew Johnson won the Ward 12 endorsement with 80.6 percent of the vote; and Linea Palmisano won the endorsement in Ward 13 with 67.7 percent of the delegates. 

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In only one race did a challenger get the DFL endorsement over an incumbent. In Ward 1, representing much of northeast Minneapolis, Elliott Payne secured 78 percent of the delegate vote in Ward 1 over current Council Member Kevin Reich. 

Jason Chavez, who is running for the open seat being vacated by Alondra Cano in Ward 9, was the only other non-incumbent to nab an endorsement, getting the nod against several other candidates with 69 percent of the vote. 

Also popular: no endorsement

The races in Wards 2, 3, 5, 6, 10 and 11 resulted in no endorsements, meaning no candidate in any of those contests got 60 percent of the delegate vote. But that doesn’t mean some candidates didn’t come close. 

In Ward 5, which is currently represented by Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, challenger Victor Martinez just barely missed out on the endorsement, picking up 58 percent of the vote over Ellison’s 39 percent in the final round. 

Another challenger to a council incumbent, this one in Ward 11, also came close to securing the endorsement. Emily Koski finished the night with 54 percent of the vote over Council Member Jeremy Schroeder, who got 45 percent of the vote.

Council Member Steve Fletcher
Council Member Steve Fletcher
In Ward 3, incumbent Council Member Fletcher won 55 percent of the final round, holding off Michael Rainville, who picked up 43 percent of the vote. Another incumbent, Council Member Jamal Osman, got 54 percent of the vote in the Ward 6 endorsement fight over Abdirizak Bihi, who got 42 percent of delegate support. 

In Ward 2, which is currently represented by the only non-DFLer on council, Green Party member Cam Gordon, two challengers faced off for the DFL endorsement. And though she didn’t get the required 60 percent, Yasura Arab came close, securing 57.4 percent of the vote over Tom Anderson, who garnered 18.2 percent. 

In Ward 10, candidate Aisha Chughtai received 49.6 percent of the delegate vote over runner-up Alicia Gibson, who received 38.8 percent, and Chughtai immediately used the results proclaim herself the favorite in the November election: “This campaign is the clear frontrunner in this race,” she said in a statement. 

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Everybody showed

Minneapolis is essentially a one-party town, and the DFL is that party. In the fall of 2020, the city’s voters went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 75 points in the presidential election. That doesn’t mean that every Democratic candidate loves the DFL’s  endorsement process, though, and previous elections have seen candidates choose to skip the whole thing. That wasn’t the case this year. Every single DFL incumbent — Reich, Fletcher, Cunningham, Ellison, Osman, Goodman, Jenkins, Schroeder, Johnson and Palminsano — participated in the process, including the candidate forums.

Endorsements sent mixed signals on policing

Almost every candidate running for council this year is advocating some degree of reform for the Minneapolis Police Department. But the idea of “defunding” or ending MPD (in favor of a department of public safety) has become something of a line of demarcation among candidates, even if the endorsement results offer a mixed message on how popular those ideas are with voters. 

Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins
While several incumbents who signed on to a pledge last summer to “dismantle” the police department — including Cunningham and Jenkins — won endorsements, others did not. Fletcher, Schroeder and Ellison, all of whom also took the pledge, not only failed to win endorsements, but Ellison and Schroeder saw challengers get more votes than they did. 

At the same time, one of the three incumbents to not sign the “dismantle” pledge, Ward 1’s Kevin Reich, lost his endorsement bid to Payne by a large margin. 

The process was smooth. And long. 

By virtue of being virtual, the often raucous and sometimes chaos nature of previous conventions was lost. Without delegates, candidates and supporters in one location, the action boiled down to the candidate forums, during which prospective Council members gave speeches to make their case. 

With 13 wards, that meant seven hours of screen-time for speeches on Saturday and another six on Sunday. Still, one upside is that the candidate forums were recorded and uploaded to YouTube, meaning voters will be able to reference the speeches if they didn’t catch them live.