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Election seems to signal the ascension of a new Minneapolis DFL

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Betsy Hodges speaking to supporters during an election viewing party at 612 Brew on Wednesday.

For a man who would be mayor of Minneapolis, Mark Andrew did everything right. He raised a fearsome war chest, courted the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and made the rounds of the DFL establishment calling in markers and collecting endorsements.

He did everything right, a number of local political operatives and analysts have said in the wake of Tuesday’s election, for someone running in the 1990s.

Assuming that the commanding lead Betsy Hodges appeared to have Wednesday night is only bolstered by the reallocation of votes cast for Don Samuels, Cam Winton and other candidates, the election will signal the ascension of a new Minneapolis DFL. One in which power is wielded by coalitions of city residents who haven’t traditionally been thought of as likely voters.

The shift, organizers inside and outside the campaigns said, was equal parts demographic change in the makeup of the electorate and a refusal to follow an outdated political playbook.

‘Relational’ campaign strategies echo 2012

Particularly in the cases of Samuels and Hodges, groups of immigrants, youth, people of color and economically disadvantaged city residents used “relational” campaign strategies like those used to defeat last year’s proposed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and restricting voting.

“This is a 21st century electorate,” said Abou Amara, policy director for Samuels’ campaign. “Demographics are destiny and people of color are now roughly 40 percent of the city’s electorate; 15 percent were not born in the United States. 

“I definitely think there was movement,” he added. “Traditional institutions and traditional perspectives on how politics got done were put to the side.”

“The traditional election of machine politics is not as effective as it used to be,” he said. “It’s more coalition politics. How we talk to voters is fundamentally different. Now we talk more about issues and policy.”

The re-allocation of second- and third-choice votes in the city’s second experience with ranked choice voting were still being counted at press time, but it seemed likely that the incoming City Council will for the first time seat members who are Somali-American, Hmong and Mexican-American.

Building coalitions around equity issues

Although the number of East Africans in Minneapolis has risen quickly in recent years, it’s not so much the presence of immigrants and people of color in the city that has changed as the communities’ determination to build coalitions around equity issues, several analysts agreed.

“Demographics have been changing for a long time,” said Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, which campaigned for Hodges. “What’s different is immigrants and people of color are organizing and becoming a force in the city.”

Add to that the mounting concern among white Minneapolitans about disparities, he said. “The A-No. 1 issue in this race for minorities and white people were the gaps between them,” said McGrath. “White people care now, and that’s really important.”

Erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner agreed that the change in the electorate has been in the works for years. Outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak’s popularity likely discouraged challengers and masked issues in the last two elections, he said.

“There definitely is a demographic and political shift happening in Minneapolis,” Horner said. “But I don’t think it’s something that burst onto the scene in 2013. It’s coming to the forefront this year because of the number of open seats.”

And because of years of slow work creating alternative institutions. Historically it’s been all but impossible for local candidates to make it through endorsing conventions without support from mainline labor unions. Their leadership is largely white.

SEIU’s role in delivering campaigners, voters

In recent years the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is credited with helping to deliver foot soldiers and votes for a number of candidates, including Hodges, who wouldn’t otherwise make it through the endorsing process.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that the demographics of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation reflect the demographics of the city,” said Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU’s Local 26, which is made up of janitors, security officers and window cleaners.

“We approach the organizing process as one of social justice,” said Morillo-Alicea. “That was reflected in yesterday’s results.”

News media and other mainstream institutions failed to pick up on the size of Hodges’ lead because they were looking at the wrong things, Morillo-Alicea said. Such as Mark Andrew’s commanding fundraising lead and old-guard DFL endorsements.

“The Hodges campaign spent not a dime on TV,” he said, pouring its energy into a multilingual field operation.

The power of face-to-face campaigning

Hodges supporter Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, concurred. “The lesson out of this campaign and out of 2012’s campaigns, particularly around the marriage amendment and Voter ID amendment, is that the election is going to go to the candidate who actually talks to people face to face,” he said.

The late Paul Wellstone was the master of the “relational” campaign, Dibble added: “Everyone thought he was one of them.”

It would be interesting, he added, to know whether people who campaigned for and voted for incoming City Council members Jacob Frey and Lisa Bender, both young, energetic urbanites, “feel like they joined the DFL.”

Erica Mauter is a graduate student in St. Catherine University’s organizational leadership program and a member of the board of Project 515, one of the groups that founded Minnesotans United. She campaigned both against the marriage amendment and for Hodges using the same strategy.

“The interesting thing about elections, particularly when they are competitive, is you always have new people engaged in the process,” she said. “If you engage more and more people, you’re going to have different outcomes.”

‘The Somali vote in the sixth is notable’

Turnout was still highest in a handful of wards on the southern edge of the city, noted Andrew Aoki, a professor of political science at Augsburg College who is an expert in immigrant, racial and ethnic politics. But Andrew did not do as well as expected there; his strongest support was in the core of the city.

“The Somali vote in the sixth is notable,” Aoki said. “With the compactness of that ward it will make it easy to build a stronghold there.”

Where there isn’t lot of money, “you have to substitute organizing,” Aoki explained. “Given the density [of Ward 6] you can turn out shoe leather much more effectively than other parts of the city.”

And the Somali community has a remarkable ability to mobilize.

“This is a people that has long been interested in politics,” he said. “And there’s a critical mass of younger people willing to do the legwork.”

Slower to make itself felt but looming as a political powerhouse is the Latino vote, Aoki added.

“There is a critical mass of people that can determine elections in Minneapolis,” said Amara. “Put together, they can counter Southwest.” 

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Sean Fahey on 11/07/2013 - 10:09 am.

    RCV Tabulation

    Does anyone know why tabulating the vote takes so long? I read this article on the city website ( and MinnPost’s FAQ on the vote that seem to suggest that there are two teams independently working through the tabulation by hand if there is no majority winner on the first choice alone.

    It is because the machines don’t keep track of an individual voter’s ranking order from the ballot?

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 11/07/2013 - 11:42 am.

    Hand tabulation

    All of the tabulations are done by hand since there is no software available to do the RCV tabulations. Opportunity there for someone.

    • Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 11/07/2013 - 01:18 pm.

      key word: certification

      It’s not that there is no software available to do the RCV tabulations — it’s that there is no CERTIFIED software. And for elections equipment, certification is required.

  3. Submitted by Bruce Bruemmer on 11/07/2013 - 12:15 pm.

    You can watch the updates


    They are at round 16, and it is kind of entertaining to watch where the second choice votes go.

    This could be programmed, but as usual computers would take the fun out of it.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/07/2013 - 12:43 pm.

    It would be interesting to follow up on this good article by looking at why the Sixth Ward East African immigrant community voted for a machine DFLer for mayor (Andrew). Rather than for the woman who won first-place ranking in almost the rest of the entire city.

    Was it TV ads? Mark Andrew’s mailings? Bias against a woman asserting leadership (that would be an anthropological assessment, based on values of clan-based patriarchies)?

    In any case, the Sixth Ward pro-Andrew vote is a definite anomaly that needs explanation.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/07/2013 - 01:11 pm.

      Needing explanation

      An excellent question! I’d be interested in a follow-up on this as well. It’d be interesting to find out if “traditional” clan-based patriarchy translates to the new country politically, and to what degree. Let’s get Eric Ostermeier from “Smart Politics” on this.

    • Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 11/07/2013 - 04:33 pm.

      Connie; Ray;

      I believe that was some coalition-building on the part of the Warsame people and was controversial among Somali voters. Several folks I talked to yesterday made a point of saying that with the exception of 6, East Africans did not vote as a block. One of my colleagues is putting in the shoe leather on this–I think. So check back. 

  5. Submitted by Joel Fischer on 11/07/2013 - 01:02 pm.

    I don’t think I understand this process.

    What happens if the first person eliminated from contention receives a 2nd choice vote on every single remaining ballot?
    IOW, how does anyone truly get eliminated?

    • Submitted by Bruce Bruemmer on 11/07/2013 - 02:30 pm.

      No Zombie candidates;

      When they are eliminated they cannot come back to life. It seems that if your first choice gets eliminated, and your second choice is already gone, then they must go to your 3rd choice, otherwise there would never be a chance for your third choice to go into play. Conceivably your vote could be exhausted after your first choice is eliminated (if your second and third choices have already been eliminated).

      • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 11/07/2013 - 03:27 pm.

        If I understand correctly, then…

        it’s like having 30+ separate elections, with the lowest vote-getter being eliminated each round?

        e.g. A candidate is eliminated after Round 1, and therefore isn’t even on the ballot (technically speaking) for Round 2, so cannot receive any votes.

        • Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/07/2013 - 03:43 pm.

          qualified yes

          Yes, where rounds refers to cycles through the field where 1 candidate is eliminated on each round after the first. In other words, there will be no more rounds than there are candidates in the election. But there could be only one round, if a candidate wins a majority in the first round.

          • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 11/07/2013 - 04:30 pm.

            Of course, but…

            How or in what circumstance would a person’s third choice get counted? Only if their second choice has already been eliminated?

            I don’t know why this is so confusing to me.

  6. Submitted by James Mork on 11/07/2013 - 01:02 pm.


    The news media seems to have an awful problem confronting the residency issue. What I mean by that is the fact that a lot of these campaign donors and endorsers don’t LIVE in the city! They have their own self-serving issues. And if their candidate levies taxes on resident voters, they don’t have to PAY. When I was in AFSCME, my steward was from Wisconsin! When his union did things that wasted city money, it was irrelevant to him. The angry switch of the fire union to Mark Andrew was, in my eyes, just a sign of that. Union members living outside the city lashing out at Betsy Hodges who realized they don’t vote, so they don’t have a say. This issue has been buried throughout the election, but in many political fights, it is the city taxpayer against suburban union members.

  7. Submitted by Chuck Repke on 11/07/2013 - 01:27 pm.

    Say that again???

    It is an interesting take on a story, that there was this radical change in who voted, but… the numbers look like the best turnout still occured in the wealthiest, whitest wards in the southern part of the City (where Hodges won) with the exception of Ward 6 which had a large East African community and voted for Andrew… but the story is that there was a radical change in something.???

    Betsy Hodges is a bright woman who appealed all parts of the community city wide. Her volunteer base may have appeared younger and more diverse… but when one starts looking at turnout numbers in a municipal election and particularly RCV elections the turnout is older, whiter and wealthier than a 1/3 smaller than it was in the last two hotly contested races in 1997 and 2001.

  8. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 11/08/2013 - 11:36 am.

    The light bulb lit up late for me (duh?)

    For me, one of Mark Andrews’ late mailings was the kiss of death. The election seemed like a yawner before then; but all of a sudden I saw Mondale and McLaughlin looking out at me from the printed page. These are people with whom I am comfortable coalescing on state and national issues, but who tried their best to make life hard for Rybak over the last 12 years. So Andrews clearly aligned himself with the old guard DFL against the Rybak insurgency, and quickly dropped out of my top 3. He had a lot of money to spend on strategists — perhaps he should sue them for malpractice.

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