Anyone who thought City Council Member Diane Hofstede was going to roll over and play dead after Jacob Frey won DFL endorsement for her Third Ward job was wrong.
These are two tough candidates. He points to what he sees as her flaws as a public official. She responds by pointing to her accomplishments.
The fight started during precinct caucuses, moved on to the ward convention and now follows the candidates as they go door to door.
“It was really clear that some aggressive strategies were being utilized,” said Hofstede of caucus night in April. Hofstede says she worked to encourage the East African immigrants to attend the precinct caucuses and then saw them intimidated by her opponent’s supporters. “I just really felt it wasn’t the DFL Party I grew up in.”
She says she went to the ward convention in May to tell delegates she was not seeking their endorsement. When she arrived, the hall was filled with people wearing red Frey T-shirts. She left, and Frey was endorsed on a voice vote.
“I just felt it was a flawed process and not representative of our diverse community,” said Hofstede. “I am shocked and dismayed that this much energy is being used to defeat someone who has always been a Democrat.”
Frey, though, sees his DFL endorsement as proof that he can organize at the grass-roots level and get new people involved in the political process.
“We’re very proud of what we did at the convention,” said Frey. “We got more people involved than ever before. Probably 80 percent of them had never done this, they had never attended a caucus or a convention, they didn’t even know what that was.”
Frey claims 80 percent of the convention delegates voted for him, and he disagrees that his supporters lack diversity.
“We had more people over the age of 60 attend the convention and support our campaign, far more than our opponent had,” he said. “We had people from different cultures, different sexual preferences. You name it. We had everybody.
“It was crystal clear what was going to happen, and she walked out of the room vaguely citing some sort of flaw that never happened,” said Frey. “We could have spotted her 150 delegates and still won dramatically.”
The boundaries of the ward where Hofstede was first elected eight years ago were changed during redistricting. Gone are two neighborhoods in North Minneapolis on the west side of the Mississippi that were hard hit by mortgage foreclosures. New to the ward are the North Loop, the Mill District and the site of the new Vikings Stadium, all in downtown.
The ward retains the Northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods between Lowry Avenue on the north and Dinkytown on the south.
“The Third Ward is a very active and vibrant place,” said Hofstede. “If you try to find a location for a business, there are very few open. The storefronts are full. The businesses are doing extremely well.”
“The new ward doesn’t have the socio-economic disparity — it’s more alike than different,” said Hofstede. “It has, I think, the most potential in shaping who we are as a city because there are so many opportunities in terms of economic development and riverfront development.”
Frey says the area is “packed with potential. We are the economic engine of the whole state. We are the theatrical capital, we’re the entertainment mecca, we’ve got professional sports teams here. We’ve got part of the University of Minnesota.”
“The Mill District, what you’re seeing is a very forward-thinking group of empty-nesters. Their kids have left, they previously lived in the suburbs and they recognize the value of living in a dense urban environment,” he said. “This city is starting to recognize what a downtown can be, and that’s huge.”
Dramatic neighborhood changes, too
It would be wrong to characterize the battle as pitting the downtown precincts against the traditional Northeast neighborhoods across the river. Both neighborhoods have changed dramatically in the last five years.
“North Loop has exploded,” said Hofstede. “If you think about what was there five years ago and what’s there today, and who has moved in and the amount of new business and energy, it’s extremely exciting.”
“It has always been a very diverse community with new Americans,” said Hofstede. “It’s still peppered with the same flavor it had when I was growing up. But it is even more diverse.”
“Northeast has been traditionally eastern European,” said Frey. “That section of Northeast has changed dramatically in that there is now a very large population of artists. There is also a large population of families who like it but may not necessarily stay.”
“North Loop is one of the fastest, most organically growing neighborhoods in the entire country,” said Frey, noting that such a neighborhood comes together without much help from city planners.
“I think the initial trigger [for the North Loop] was the creative class,” he said. “What you saw in the North Loop 15 or so years ago, there was a lot of empty warehouse space and you had some subsidized housing for artists.”
The Northeast Minneapolis Arts Group sponsored the first candidate debate in the Third Ward, with questions focused on how each of the four candidates in the race would support the arts. Joining candidates Hofstede and Frey were Mitch Katch, endorsed by the Libertarian Party, and Kristina Gronquist, endorsed by the Green Party.
The debate took place in the historic Ritz Theater with questions covering candidates’ support of murals, the ability of galleries to sell liquor at events and how the Northeast arts community could attract tourists.
“We have a lot of marketing, PR and promotion to do,” said Gronquist. “That is something I could excel in.”
“It’s not the city’s job to promote private businesses,” said Katch. “Artists are private businesses.”
“We need a council member who is going to be an ambassador for the arts district,” said Frey.
Hofstede, meanwhile, said: “The role of the City Council Member is promoting the city’s Third Ward. That’s what I have done.”
Candidates’ different styles
In separate interviews, Frey and Hofstede display different styles. He talks about what he will do differently from Hofstede. She talks about what she has done in office, going back to her days on the Library Board. Those two themes continued while they stood next to each other during the debate.
Near the end of the evening, the candidates were asked why they were running.
“I believe we can do more together than we can independently,” said Hofstede, adding, “I’ve lived here all my life.”
“We need an effective council member,” said Frey. “I’m so proud of the organization we’ve created in this campaign. It’s a rising tide.”
Frey cites his organizing and leadership skills with examples of what he has achieved. He organized the first Big Gay Race, which attracted 7,000 participants and raised almost $500,000 for the campaign against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
“Knocking on doors, I have heard a lot of concerns about responsiveness,” said Frey when asked about Hofstede’s constituent service. He repeatedly promises to return all phone calls in 24 hours.
“I want to transform the way the Third Ward is served in terms of constituent services,” he said. “I want to make sure people have an easily accessible route directly to their council member full time. That’s important.”
“Something else the Third Ward wants is somebody who will stand by their word, and I will,” said Frey, adding that Hofstede’s support for the Vikings stadium has angered some residents. “She was an early supporter, and I think being an early supporter on something that requires negotiations is not smart.”
Responded Hofstede: “I was the first council member [to support the stadium], along with Council President [Barbara] Johnson, but in order to pass the stadium, we needed seven. I saw the potential, I evaluated the numbers, had discussions with our finance individuals — that’s what I have done for 20 years, evaluate the financial impact of a decision.”
“I had every confidence in our Finance Department, the mayor and the others who were working on it,” she added, saying the community involvement in the project she wanted was part of the plan, as was the temporary move of the Vikings to TCF Field at the University. “I have no regrets.”
Frey said he is critical of Hofstede as a way to illustrate how he will perform differently than she has at City Hall.
“They want somebody not to simply do the politically expedient thing, but to do the right thing,” he said. “My pledge is, ‘Yeah, I will do the right thing. I will take the route that will be best for the collective good.’ ”
“I think a campaign is about issues and about results,” said Hofstede when asked about Frey’s criticism. “If you don’t have achievements that are real, that are directly related to the position you are seeking, then I suppose the only thing you can do is attack.”
Lots of endorsements
Both candidates have impressive lists of endorsements from individuals. Frey has the backing of five of the 13 council members. Hofstede has the backing of three colleagues.
Frey’s list includes Council Members Elizabeth Glidden, Lisa Goodman, Robert Lilligren, John Quincy and Gary Schiff . He is also endorsed by DFL activists Sam and Sylvia Kaplan and Congressman Keith Ellison.
Hofstede has endorsements from Council Members Johnson, Don Samuels and Meg Tuthill. She is also endorsed by Walter and Joan Mondale and Don and Arvonne Fraser, who live in the Third Ward.
Both candidates enter the final weeks of the contest with about the same amount of cash on hand.
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Frey’s campaign finance report, filed Sept. 3, shows $43,449, which includes a $10,000 loan from the candidate. The campaign raised $62,326 since its January report.
Hofstede’s report show that she has traditionally financed her campaigns with loans from her own funds. She had a cash balance of $43,703 earlier this month, with $71,955 in outstanding loans from the candidate. That total included a recent $10,000 loan.
“We doubly out-raised her, which is the important piece,” said Frey. “Money can’t trump grass-roots organizing. We believe in people power, and I think we’re proving it is very effective.”
“Self-financing gives me a great deal of independence,” said Hofstede who adds that she grew up in a family of strong women and is not going to apologize for carrying on that tradition. “I’m an independent woman. I can’t be anything else.”