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Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew Q-A: ‘I have the skill set and the relationships to succeed’

“I have a fabulous perspective as a businessperson who has also had more public experience than any candidate running for mayor.”

Mark Andrew was one of the student founders of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, served as state chair of the DFL and was on the Hennepin County Board from 1982 until 1999.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with seven candidates for Minneapolis mayor. Only those who have filed with the Hennepin County Elections Department to form a campaign finance committee have been interviewed.  The interviews will run in alphabetical order. At the bottom of this article, you can find a short list of high-profile supporters (where provided by the candidate). 


Mark Andrew has held public office, run his own businesses and perhaps has sold you french fries as a State Fair vendor. After 12 years in the private sector, the former Hennepin County commissioner is once again seeking public office, entering the race for Minneapolis mayor.

He now runs the environmental consulting and marketing company Green Mark.

Andrew, 62, started his career at the University of Minnesota, where, as one of the student founders of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, he became its first president.

He later served as state chair of the DFL and was on the Hennepin County Board from 1982 until 1999.

In this series of edited interviews, candidates were asked to introduce themselves to voters and respond to some basic questions — not the least of which is:

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MinnPost: Why are you running for mayor?

Mark Andrew: I have incredible passion for our city. I made a lifelong commitment to our city. I bought my homes in the city. I raised my children in the city, and my children attended public schools in the city. I dedicated my early career to making things better, and the city and the county and I have a deep and passionate commitment.

It’s a very good time for me to be running for mayor. I have indefatigable energy. I have a fabulous perspective as a businessperson who has also had more public experience than any candidate running for mayor.

I think my skill sets — and this is probably the single most important thing — I have skill sets that ideally match what the modern mayor is supposed to be doing: A bold vision, an ability to collaborate and the creative know-how to reach across different jurisdictions to get things done.

Finally, I have an excellent relationship with the corporate community. I am going to be side by side with the business community addressing these problems because government can’t do it all.

MP: What do you see as the big problems facing the city in the next four years?

MA: Let’s start with the most basic things.  We have 28,000 fewer jobs in Minneapolis than we had in 2001. While I recognize there was an economic meltdown in our country, and every other major city has suffered losses, Minneapolis has suffered more than many other cities.

We need to recapture jobs. The solution to that is a partnership with the business community. We are going to build inducements for businesses to locate here. We are going to create environments within which responsible development can occur. That will require public-private cooperation. So jobs is No. 1.

Building up our tax base is No. 2. There again, that is a partnership with government and the private sector.

What we did with the Midtown Greenway is create an atmosphere within which responsible development might occur. We have hundreds of millions of dollars in private sector investment on the Greenway for a very small public investment. We’re going to take that philosophy and bring it to the business community and create those opportunities for them to invest.

And No. 3: We need to build up our population. Mayor [R.T.] Rybak has spoken of this a little bit. We’re going to put that concept on steroids and create, again, a public and private relationship that will create an attractive environment that will draw people back into the community so we can build up our population over the next 10 years.

MP: What kind of incentives do you use to interest the private sector in investing in Minneapolis?

MA: The day of big government spending on public infrastructure is long past us. The best role for the government is to create the environment within which responsible development can occur. Greening is a strategic and critical tool for developers.

There isn’t a developer who has an interest in coming into our city who is not interested in the best economic drivers to attract good development. That is green space; that is parks and water.

We’re going to use those as strategic tools, like we have with the Midtown Greenway, and we’re going to take those to different parts of the city that are currently not very attractive to developers, such as the North Side and pockets of poverty on the South Side. So that’s one thing we do to attract developers.

Another is to create tax policies that are equitable. We’re going to look at tax policies and how the city is trapped budget-wise. We’ve pressed as far as we are going to on property taxes. So we have to look at creating relationships and inducements for the private sector to want to come in here, and tax policy is one thing we’re going to look at. We haven’t landed anywhere yet as to what exactly that means but we’re open to it.

MP: So you want more private sector investment in Minneapolis? Does that also build the 28,000 jobs you mentioned?

MA: This is the linchpin of why I’m running for mayor. The modern mayor will use the mayor’s office for a platform upon which to create multidimensional partnerships.

The solution to job creation, tax base enhancement, population growth, the schools, all of those problems are interconnected. The solution does not reside in the City Council or the mayor’s office.  The solution resides in the ability of a mayor to pull in schools, to pull in legislators, foundations, neighborhoods and families to craft a coherent and cohesive policy that can be embraced and propelled forward.

That’s my skill set, to do intra-jurisdictional partnerships. Intra-jurisdictional partnerships may be the world’s worst sound bite, but it is probably the single most important thing a modern mayor can do to move the city forward.

I have a 30-year demonstrated history of being a unifying force. I was a unifying force on the County Board.  I have many accomplishments on the county board from creating the recycling programs, to the Midtown Greenway, to a number of issues on women’s rights.

I quadrupled funding for childcare support services. I created pay equity for women. I did domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians.  I was elected to the County Board by both Republicans and DFLers because I made sure everyone got what they needed. Today’s mayor has to be able to do that, has to be a positive force, has to be a bold thinker. And they have to have the ability to pull people with different views together, get them to the table, craft a creative strategy and then turn them loose and let them do their magic.

MP: You have used the Midtown Greenway as an example of a project that attracted development and jobs.  What was your role in that project?

MA: The county had never been involved in economic development, never been involved in housing, never been involved in urban parkland. We did have suburban parks, which are now the Three Rivers Parks.

But there was clearly a need in the county, so we started acquiring land for either rails or trails.  We started doing that in the ’80s. There was no precedent for that.

My first project became the first trail project in the county — the Midtown Greenway. But the first land we acquired was the land that is now the Cedar Lake Trail. That was the first land we acquired for rails or trails. We bought land extending from Victoria, out by Lake Minnetonka, all the way into downtown Minneapolis for the purposes of developing it for light rail, if the Legislature allowed that, or for trails.

The challenge was to get to the Mississippi River. The terminus of that trail was right about where Target Field is today. There is still a challenge getting all of the way to the river but that is getting fixed.

MP: As long as we’re talking about rails and trails, where are you on the Southwest Light Rail Line? The City Council and mayor are both opposed to freight trains and light rail moving through the Kenilworth Corridor, between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, but St. Louis Park doesn’t want the freight lines diverted to their city.

MA: My personal view is that the Hennepin County Board looked at the Southwest Corridor 20 years ago and decided not to do it. I still need to learn a little more about what the rationale was for designating that because when the original studies were done the ridership numbers were very difficult to justify construction of a rail line through the Kenilworth Corridor.

The study actually had a strong justification for a line where the most people were and the most people who needed transportation were.  That would have suggested going down a portion of the Midtown Greenway and at some point turning north on a city street and taking the line downtown.

I’m wondering what the thinking was for the new route.  One thing I do know is, I did not support then, nor do I support now, the storage of railroad cars in the Kenilworth Corridor.  It is not only a visual blight but it’s unfair to the covenant we established with the neighbors a couple of decades ago.

MP: Let’s move on to property taxes. The budgets proposed by Mayor Rybak for 2012 and 2013 did not produce major increases in property tax. Where are you on the subject of property taxes?

MA: I want to be careful about the way I say this because I have supported most of the mayor’s policies on taxation, and I think he has done a creditable job in a difficult environment. But, the city’s economic problems are not solved.

The last two years of modest budget increases don’t suggest a trend. There is tremendous pressure on the property tax because of the emerging demands of city government that have not yet been addressed. I’m very concerned about the demands facing the city.

We have a huge pent-up demand with city employees who haven’t had pay increases — they’ve gone backwards. Promises have been made about the future, and there is huge pressure being driven just by that situation.

Despite the fact that cuts in city staff have been made, there is going to be demand on the property tax to rise if we just keep things in the status quo.

On the other hand, I’m a homeowner whose property tax has doubled. This is unacceptable. We have ridiculously high property taxes in southwest Minneapolis particularly, and all over town. If you look at the level of property tax for middle-class families, it is untenable and it is not sustainable.

Simply holding the line on property tax, given the current budget crunch the city continues to fight, is not going to be the way we’re addressing the problem.  Property tax is the revenue source of last resort in my administration.

MP: So where do you get money? How do you attract development? How do you increase revenue?

MA: I have three primary things I want to do. They are strategies designed to reduce pressure on the property tax over time.

In the short term, we’re going to continue to have struggles with our tax levels.  That’s going to be a big issue in my first year, my first term as mayor, struggling with that because I have no appetite for property tax increases. None.

I should talk a little about my three areas of focus. We’ve talked a little about why I am different from the rest of the pack as far as personal attributes.  All of the other candidates running for mayor have good qualities, but there’s not a mayor in that group.

You’ve got to be a unifier, you’ve got to have a bold vision and you have to be somebody who can collaborate across multi-jurisdictions. I feel I’m the only who has those qualities. So I’m the perfect match for mayor.

There’s a lot of stuff I’m not any good at, maybe most things I’m not going to be good at, but we’re talking about the mayor.  My personal strengths match those of the modern mayor.

I’ve thought a lot about what the priorities are because the mayor can’t do everything. I will be a strong mayor in a weak mayor system, as R.T. Rybak has been.  We’re going to do three things.

No. 1, we’re going to make Minneapolis the greenest city in North America. And we’re going to do that not just for bragging rights. We’re going to do that because there is financial and economic payoff, and there is a large quality-of-life payoff.

No. 2, we’re going to attack the achievement gap in our schools. A lot of people ask what does a mayor have to do with education.

As a taxing jurisdiction, not very much.  But as a visionary who can lead the formation of a cogent, coherent strategy for education, everything in the world.

The mayor’s office is the best platform in the world for getting things done at the local level. Government, business, you name it, the mayor’s office is the ideal platform.

The achievement gap is a national scandal. We have a bigger gap between our kids of color and white kids than any region in the United States, and it’s gotten worse, not better.

Why is this of concern to Minneapolis? Because these kids are the ones who can help propel the city forward when we figure out how to get them to parity where everybody is supposed to be.

They will become more productive, the employment rate will be higher, there will be more homeownership and more people are going to live in the city. It becomes a critical strategy for the city to address the issue of education and school performance while these kids are still in school. In a few years, it will pay rich dividends for the city.

No 3, economic development. I am going to be the partner of business. I’m the only candidate in the mayor’s race that has significant business experience. I’ve run a company and I’ve owned a company. I’ve demonstrated I know how to do that.

We need to look at North Minneapolis as a canvas on which we can paint the future for our citizens and out kids. Every dollar of economic development that happens in North Minneapolis takes a dollar of financial pressure off the property owners in South Minneapolis. North Minneapolis is going to be a big economic target for us.

It’s going to be about attracting businesses in my first month in the mayor’s office. I’ve said this far and wide. We will convene a Blue Ribbon Task Force made up of private corporations, neighborhoods and foundations. We’ll write a blueprint for attracting several hundred jobs into North Minneapolis via the private sector.

We’re looking for light manufacturing or some other kind of business that will provide livable wages. That will be the seed we plant that will grow the roots for recovery in North Minneapolis. We will create incentives for businesses to do that.

MP: The focus of Mayor Rybak’s 2012 State of the City address was development in North Minneapolis. Is your plan different?

MA: The mayor, I think his instincts are true. He understands that in his last year in office that he needs to tee that up in North Minneapolis. It’s a good thing he’s doing that.

What we’re going to do is take that and use it for a base. We’re going to grow that notion and create opportunities for business to succeed there.

North Minneapolis can and should be a welcoming place for business. There are people who are highly trainable, who are available to work and who can advance the right kinds of businesses.

We will use environmental amenities as economic drivers — green space, parks and water. We are going to physically clean up the north side. We’re going to get rid of contaminated sites, we’re going to put in more park space, we’re going to make buildings more attractive and we’re going to create some energy there that will inspire development.

Incidentally, there are 2,000 North Minneapolis kids who go to school in the suburbs. That is so unacceptable; don’t even get me started on that. Some of the schools those kids are going to don’t even produce superior benchmark test scores compared to what some of the city schools are doing.

Parents are sending their kids out there because they think it’s safer and they’re getting a better education. What we’re going to do is work with the School Board to shore up the quality of our educational opportunities and the safety and security of those north side schools, so parents will keep their kids in the neighborhood. That will be a big step forward.

MP: Maybe you know this, but we’re going to build a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis. When the Metrodome was built, it was supposed to attract development. That didn’t happen. How do we make this stadium a magnet for development?

MA: First of all, full disclosure: I didn’t want to put the stadium there. I wanted it on the other side of downtown and I wanted to create an eco-district with Target Center, Target Field and the football stadium. That’s not what happened, so we have to make the best of a difficult situation.

Second thing, full disclosure: I do not like the financing package. I’m against gambling, personally, and I’m certainly against using gambling proceeds for stadiums because of the unreliability of that revenue stream. That’s being borne out.

And the third thing I don’t like about the financing is that Minneapolitians are getting hit twice to pay for the stadium. It’s a nasty hit. We have to pay the state share, and we have to pay the city share. It’s an unfair hit on our residents.

However, as mayor, I will not preside over a hole in the ground. We have to make it a success. It cannot be a success without substantial ancillary development around the stadium.

Green space is going to be a big part of it. There needs to be green space. There needs to be some sort of water feature. Water and green space always attract development if done strategically. Look at the tax records. Property values are up around lakes and creeks and waterways.

Whatever is being discussed right now, I promise you, it isn’t enough. As long as the stadium is going where it is, it’s critical to make a direct connection to the river, it’s critical to make a direct connection to the south with parks and neighborhoods and to the east, to get over the freeway and somehow connect to the University. Critical.

The stadium will not be successful, no matter how much of a bright and shiny object the stadium is, if we don’t crack the challenge of getting the right connections to the river, the University, to south side neighborhoods with heavy focus on green space and recreational amenities.

If we’re able to do that, it will be transformative. If we’re not able to do that, we’re going to have a very pretty and expensive stadium that doesn’t get used that much.

MP: Changing the subject, we have Police Chief Janee Harteau and Fire Chief John Fruetel who are both newly appointed by Mayor Rybak.  What is your assessment of those two chiefs?

MA: I have to be honest with you. My answer is I don’t know. I’ve not met with either of them. I will in the near future. All I really have is a sense they are going to be important appointments. I will make this one assurance: It will be a thoughtful, deliberative, non-political decision-making process.

The people who occupy those jobs in my administration will be humanists more than bureaucrats, and they’re going to be focused on community strategies more than top-down strategies.

MinnPost: Quick question. Minneapolis has been trying to get state bonding money to repair Nicollet Mall without success. Where is that on your list of priorities?

MA: I’m concerned with downtown thoroughfares — one of them is Nicollet Mall, and the other is Hennepin Avenue.

Nicollet Mall first. We’re going to ramp up our efforts at the Capitol. The city does a pretty good job at the Legislature, but in my administration, we’ll probably invest more money in lobbying because the paybacks are substantial.

And we’re going to work real hard to build relationships with non-metro legislators. That’s always been challenging. The current mayor does a real good job of that. I think we will put more resources into carving out more meaningful relationships with non-traditional allies at the Legislature.

We’re going to put a stronger focus on developing more strategic relationships and more intimate relationships with people who have money.

With Nicollet Mall, part of the solution is waiting in line to get a bonding request approved, but part of the solution is developing a vision for Nicollet Mall.

There are two mindsets talking about what we want to be doing with Nicollet Mall. One set of thinkers want to see steel wheels on rails in the form of trolleys going down the Mall. I’m not in that camp.

I tend to be a lot more focused on the Mall, more pedestrian focused and more green space focused. Maybe less focus on transit.

I’m not sure what transit is going to look like, if at all.  So it’s a work in progress, but substantial changes to the Nicollet Mall are merited. We’ll have that debate.  I know a lot of people want to put trolleys there. So far, I’m underwhelmed by that idea.

I see a functional use for trolleys in the city if they connect with something, but not just as a cute little urban touristy attraction. That doesn’t pass muster with me.

The second avenue is Hennepin. I want to see Hennepin become an arts avenue over time; it’s going to take some years to do it, stretching all the way from the Walker Art Center to the river. There’s great work being done on this now and I’m going to ramp that up.

It’s not just about the theater and the arts. The future of Hennepin Avenue is going to be a lot more pedestrian friendly. It’s going to be far more attractive. It still might have some of those quaint little seamy underbelly qualities, but it is going to be much safer, it’s going to be much more lively and it’s going to be more attractive.

MP: Last question.  Is there something I haven’t asked that you want to talk about?

MA: I was afraid — this is true confessions — I wouldn’t have the currency anymore because I’ve been in the private sector. While I’ve been a creditable business owner, I’ve not been deeply involved in electoral politics for a few years.

After a month on the campaign trail, here is what I know: We are either the leading candidate, or we are just about the leading candidate. We are picking up a lot of support from all over the city.

I’m getting support from the business community and others that will allow for a citywide coalition. We’re extremely electable.

Andrew’s high-profile supporters

They include campaign committee chairs: Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Minneapolis School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Member Anita Tabb. Others include: Minneapolis School Board Member Richard Mammen and Minneapolis state Reps. Jim Davnie and Phyllis Kahn.