The race for Minneapolis mayor may be a little more confusing than it appears at first glance.
A cursory glance at the field of a dozen candidates would indicate that incumbent Mayor R.T. Rybak would have no serious competition in his bid for a third term.
But this will be the first year that Minneapolis voters will be using Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which the city officially now is calling Ranked Choice Voting because that name seems to more accurately reflect the voting system city voters approved in 2006. Under the system, voters will be able to mark a first choice in one column, then, two other choices in a second column.
Lots of candidates, no primary
Additionally, the new system means there will be no primary. Among other things, that means that voters will be confronted with three DFLers on the ballot come Election Day.
In addition to Rybak, there’s perennial candidate Dick Franson, who is in the midst of a long, long losing streak in runs for various offices, including the U.S. Senate and five different campaigns for mayor. And there’s Al Flowers, a community activist, who long has used the courts and scores of public podiums to harangue police and city officials over what he has seen as violations of civil rights in Minneapolis.
The word “Republican” will not appear on the ballot, despite the efforts of Robert Carney, who describes himself as a Republican Party activist. He attempted to file as a “Moderate Progressive Republican” but was told by city elections officials he couldn’t.
“The Minneapolis City Charter states that the candidate must state either a political party or principle but not both,” Carney was told.
So, to ensure that he would be on the ballot, Carney refiled as a “Moderate Progressive Censored.” Carney is vowing to file suit to win the right to get his party affiliation changed back to “Moderate Progressive Republican” by Election Day.
The Republican Party, however, has endorsed a candidate, musician Papa John Kolstad, but he’s running on the ballot with the designation Independent Civic Leader.
In general, Minneapolis is pretty loose about who can run and under what designation. Essentially, any resident with $20 can file and end up on the ballot with the party affiliation of his or her choosing, as long as that party affiliation is three words or fewer.
And so we have Tom Fiske running with the Socialist Workers Party label, Joey Lombard under the tag Is Awesome, James Everett, Social Entrepreneurship, Bill McGaughey, New Dignity, and Christopher Clark, Libertarian.
New parties, offbeat ideas
There’s one more: John Charles Wilson has entered the field under a party he formed in March, the Edgertonite National Party.
Wilson’s ideas on life, religion and politics were shaped, he says, by “four years in the nuthouse” in the Reagan years, the 1980s. To this day, the 42-year-old man believes that maybe the sane people were on the inside, with the less sane running the country.
It was during these years that Wilson had visions that have left him to believe that Laura Ingalls Wilder is God and that we Twin Citians live in the heart of the “Lauraist homeland,” which he defines as all places within a 240-mile radius of Minneapolis.
Some may find the idea of Laura Ingalls Wilder as God as being strange. Not Wilson.
“It came to me as a vision when I was in the nuthouse,” he said.
Laughing, he noted that only one worker gave him a difficult time about his belief.
“He was a Mormon,” said Wilson. “When you study the history of the Mormons, I found it ironic that it was a Mormon giving me a hard time about my visions.”
Wilson defines himself as a communist, but says he has been kicked out of the Communist Party because “I was too radical.”
His big issues in this race will center on transit. Too much money is being spent on the less densely populated suburbs and not enough in the heart of the cities, Wilson believes. He also proposes that the city declare a moratorium on all home foreclosures and create a system of living-wage public works jobs.
All in all, a very liberal agenda in a fairly liberal city. But Wilson harbors no illusions about his chances. He doesn’t think voters are likely ready for a Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-fearing communist for mayor.
“If I’d win, I’d probably faint,” he said. “Worse yet, I’d have a heart attack and never have a chance to serve.”
Wilson’s not alone in understanding he’s got little chance in this field of Rybak and a who-are-these-guys parade.
One candidate is ‘Awesome’
In fact, Joey Lombard, the Is Awesome candidate, decided to get into the fray when he saw that this field was packed with people who will be unknown — often with good reason — to most in Minneapolis.
“There aren’t a whole lot of big-name politicians,” said Lombard, “so I thought, ‘I’m 22 years old, why not?’ ”
Lombard, a graduate of Patrick Henry High, is a street musician (pianist, guitarist, singer) who, for personal reasons, believes that crime is the big issue. In March, he was mugged walking to his North Minneapolis home. He hasn’t taken a lock-’em-up mentality to that event. Rather, he’d like to see the city work closely with Minneapolis schools and “teach students about community service.”
But his campaign bankroll is about the same as Wilson’s — and as of late last week, wilson had $17.56 in his campaign war chest.
What is most surprising about this field is that Rybak didn’t draw more, ummm, traditional foes. After all, he’s a two-termer, and people tend to grow weary of their leaders after a couple of terms. Beyond that, he’s made it clear he’s contemplating a run for governor.
Rybak open about considering governor’s race
To his credit, Rybak is not coy about getting into the governor’s race.
“All along I’ve been honest with people, I am looking hard at that race,” he said. “I’m not going to play that political game with people about that. I’m not going to be like some governors who play the game about whether they’re running for president or not.”
The few polls that have been conducted on the governor’s race have been encouraging for Rybak, though he knows that historically, the mayor’s office is not a springboard to governor. He thinks he might have overcome some of the traditional problems big-city mayors have in statewide races by campaigning hard throughout Minnesota for President Obama.
There’s another thing that might bode well for Rybak in a gubernatorial bid.
“I love to campaign,” he admits.
So, he can see himself working as mayor of Minneapolis while running for governor in 2010.
But first things first.
He’s got a huge field of candidates to run against for mayor, though in conversation Friday he wasn’t sure how many.
“Four or five?” he asked.
“No, your honor, more like 10 or 11,” he was told.
Can he take any of these foes seriously?
“I’ve run against high-profile people and those not known,” said Rybak, who himself was an unknown when he first ran for mayor eight years ago. “What I’ve learned is that you’re not running against the others, but campaigning for yourself. Minneapolis voters expect that you will be out there knocking on doors and talking to as many people as possible. That’s what I’ll be doing.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.