If you don’t know about the Hennepin County Board election next Tuesday, you’re not alone. Marion Greene and Anne Mavity have not been buying billboards or airing radio commercials. They don’t have time.
What they have been doing is trying to contact the Minneapolis/St. Louis Park district’s primary voters before the May 13 general election. Greene, a former Minneapolis state representative, prefers going door-to-door. Mavity, a St. Louis Park City Council member, works the phones.
Both are liberal DFLers, so teasing out the differences in this barely noticed race can be subtle.
LRT, health care, human services
On the hottest-button issue, both candidates favor the establishment of a regional transit system that includes Southwest Light Rail, which runs though — and has cut a vein in — both district cities.
Mavity once cast the only vote in favor or moving the freight line to St. Louis Park — in a community that was strongly opposed to that option. Greene says it is time to move ahead with the project that has been strongly opposed by many Minneapolis district residents.
The two most-upset communities now have no one representing them on the County Board, following incumbent Gail Dorfman’s February resignation to become Executive Director of St. Stephen’s Human Services. May 13’s winner will be sworn in as soon as election results are official.
Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins notes that winner will face a SWLRT vote right away. The County Board is hosting a May 29 open house; a public hearing with a municipal consent vote is scheduled for late June.
Coming in this late will be hard on any candidate, notes Higgins, who joined the board in 2012: “I got here 15 years after they started Southwest. It’s hard to comprehend.”
Half of the county’s annual $1.3 billion budget is spent on health care and human services. Mavity comes to the race with a background in affordable housing and homelessness, which covers the human services part of the budget. Greene covers the other big chunk of the budget with her background in health care finance and early childhood issues.
“They are interested in the focus on childhood,” said Greene of the people she talks to.
Says Mavity, “I think the framing issues our community is dealing with are equity and smart growth and sustainability, and they have to go hand in hand.”
Higgins has endorsed Greene; both served in the Minnesota legislature before redistricting cost Greene her House seat to fellow incumbent Frank Hornstein. Hornstein and Minneapolis City Councilmember Lisa Goodman are among the prominent elected DFLers backing Greene.
Says Higgins, “She has a great way of listening, asking good questions,” adding Greene’s background in health care and finance will bring a new voice and “external knowledge” to the discussion of those topics.
Higgins is the only sitting board member to endorse in the race. But Mavity scored a coup when Dorfman endorsed her.
“I worked on a lot of projects with Anne,” Dorfman said, including housing and homeless issues at Hennepin County, where Mavity served briefly on Dorfman’s staff.
“Because of all the work she has done in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, she is really well connected, she knows all the players, she can pick up the phone,” Dorfman said. “She’s clearly somebody who can hit the ground running.”
“In recent years relations between Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis have often not been as collaborative as they should be,” Dorfman added. “Anne has the connections at City Hall. She is a friend of [Mayor Betsy] Hodges. They run together.”
Greene — spokeswoman for Hodges 2013 election rival Mark Andrew — also has a powerful City Hall ally: Goodman, who heads the council’s Community Development committee.
“Marion is not just the candidate I’ve supported, she’s really the better candidate in this race,” Goodman said. “Marion has a level of expertise in health care that really no one else on the board has. She also has a broad base of knowledge of children’s issues, she did a lot of children’s-related work at the legislature and I think that sets her apart from other County Board Members.
“Marion really took it upon herself as a legislator to be very active in the community and encourage people, as an elected official, to be in touch with her,” said Goodman. “I think that was one of the things she did best as a legislator. She was really connected to people.”
Across the border, St. Louis Park Mayor Jeff Jacobs champions colleague Mavity.
“What I like about Anne is her commitment to the public process,” said Jacobs noting that in his community they start the public discussion when there is a problem and keep going until they come up with a solution. “Ours is a very engaged and very grass roots process.”
A recent ongoing debate about sidewalks provoked a lot of public discussion. Some wanted concrete. Some wanted to keep the grass.
“Anne did a remarkably good job of working with the neighbors,” said Jacobs, describing Mavity as a good listener who is good at articulating her position and who does her homework.
“She’s changed my mind on more than one occasion because of her research,” Jacobs said. “Anne is very personable, she has a great background and would bring a unique presence to the county.”
Both campaigns have been targeting their calls and door-knocking likely voters and past supporters. In the primary, Mavity won 22 precincts to Greene’s 21. But Greene won 2,247 total votes to Mavity’s 1,768.
“I think what brought us our success in the primary was that we had been hard at work for months making sure we were knocking on doors and calling voters on the phone,” Greene campaign manager Ray Hoover said.
“We did a really great job over the four days leading up to the primary of connecting with voters and making sure we got the folks out to vote,” said Hoover. “Marion has a lot of supporters among traditional voters, and her former constituents all got out to vote for her, so we’re optimistic that we can drive more of those folks to the polls on May 13.”
Says Mavity campaign manager Michael Ohama: “You pick the neighborhoods you need to go into and you just start calling, start calling, start calling, start calling. You reach out to as many people as you possibly can.”
“The nice thing about the short nature of this is that the call to volunteers is a little easier because there is no time,” Ohama said. “That urgency is very real. They can feel that. It helps keep your volunteers energized. Engaged. This isn’t the middle of July when the election is not for another few months. It’s right here. It’s right now.”
A closer look at the primary results reveals that Mavity carried all but one precinct in St. Louis Park and seven precincts in Minneapolis. All of Greene’s winning precincts were in Minneapolis and, while she did not win a precinct in St. Louis Park, she did win 214 votes there, or about 10 percent of her tally.
“To me, it’s really important to talk to people across the district,” said Greene who has been advised to concentrate on Minneapolis but is moving ahead with plans to campaign in St. Louis Park. “You learn so much when you go door-to-door.”
Says Mavity, who grew up in Minneapolis, “My life has been intertwined in this district for so long it doesn’t take much to scratch the surface and have a connection with the person on the other end of the phone.”
The four candidates eliminated in the primary had about a third of the votes. The third- and fourth-place finishers, newcomer Ben Schweigert and former State Senator Ken Kelash, have not endorsed a finalist.
Whomever wins faces another primary in August and general election in November for a full four-year term beginning next year.