One was at the scene of one of the city’s most historic protests. Another was at a popular craft brewery. One took place in the gymnasium of an arts center, while yet another was in the lobby of a historic theater.
How the five major candidates for mayor of Minneapolis chose to declare their candidacies says a lot about how each is positioning themselves for the campaign. And drawing distinctions — even visually — is necessary in an election where differences on policy issues will be slight if not at times indistinguishable. Here, a look at how they did it — and what it says about them:
On Tuesday, Tom Hoch became the fifth major candidate for mayor, declaring his candidacy while standing in the lobby of a place, the State Theatre, that he was instrumental in saving as director of the Hennepin Theatre Trust.
The setting was a reminder of his position in the arts community, while an introduction by former longtime Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Executive Director Cora McCorvey noted Hoch’s service as McCorvey’s deputy.
When Hoch spoke, his announcement lamented that Minneapolis doesn’t have an economic development plan, unlike places such as Indianapolis, Denver and Austin. “What is Minneapolis doing?” he asked. “We don’t have a plan of action. We’re not leading any of the national conversation on job creation, on attracting creativity and culture … Those are the questions I’m asking and I have ideas, and I know you do too.”
When he kicked off his candidacy, in early February, Rep. Ray Dehn stood in the Public Functionary gallery in Northeast Minneapolis and gave an almost professorial talk about his troubled teen and young adult years, his time as an architect, his representation of a North Minneapolis district and his work on criminal justice reform. Among those who spoke on his behalf was Kevin Reese, who telephoned into the gathering from Lino Lakes prison, where he is incarcerated.
“We’re going to have a very frank conversation about whether we want the same people leading our city who jump from crisis to crisis, or if we want new leadership who gets out in front of issues,” Dehn said. “Are we going to be a city that continues to play catch-up or a 21st-century city filled with innovation, accessibility and one that is just?”
First-term 3rd Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey didn’t announce his candidacy IN a bar. He did it ON one: specifically, the bar at Dangerous Man in Northeast. In a crowd that leaned heavily toward the millennial (and might have exceeded the fire code), Frey didn’t have to quote former Mayor R.T. Rybak to make it obvious that he wanted to emulate the three-term mayor — absent only a crowd-surfing finale.
“People say it’s a weak mayor system,” Frey said. “I’ll tell you what, it’s a weak mayor system, it’s a weak council system, a weak coordinator system. We’ve got an independent park board and school board. The only way you get anything done is by building coalitions … and having a visible and aggressive leader to get the job done.”
When she officially kicked off her reelection bid, in mid-December, incumbent Mayor Betsy Hodges delivered a prepared speech at the entrance to the large gyms at Urban Ventures’ Colin Powell Leadership Building. The announcement sounded a theme that harkened back to Hodges’ Minneapolis Brag Week, prior to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game: that, like the city, she doesn’t brag enough about her accomplishments.
“As Minnesotan as I am and as, well, female as I am — and as much as I love bragging about Minneapolis — I have sometimes shied away from pointing out my own accomplishments,” Hodges said. “That’s the great thing about this campaign, though: for the next year, it gives me an excuse to tell people everything they got when they voted for me. I’m looking forward to it and I’m starting now.”
As the first announced candidate to get into the mayor’s race, Nekima Levy-Pounds chose a significant day: Nov. 15, the anniversary of the 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis Police officer. The location was significant too. It was held at the entrance to the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct station, where an 18-day occupation took place after the shooting. In her extemporaneous remarks, Levy-Pounds cited the death of Clark and the protests that resulted as reasons why “it is time out for business as usual in the city of Minneapolis.”
“If we agree to roll up our sleeves, if we agree to live our faith, if we agree to speak truth to power and stand on the front lines and challenge those who are in the seat of power who are complacent, then we can shift the paradigm,” said Levy-Pounds, the former president of the Minneapolis NAACP and former University of St. Thomas law professor.
‘Minnesota nice’ campaigns?
While candidates usually want their official announcements to be about themselves and their candidacies, digs at opponents manage to slip in. Hodges, being the incumbent, is the most frequent target, though no names are usually attached to the jabs, at least for now.
Dehn’s reference to leaders moving from crisis to crisis, for example, could only mean the tumultuous first term that Hodges has experienced. And Levy-Pounds mentioned “the mayor and the city council” as rubber-stamping police misconduct when they approve cash settlements of excessive force lawsuits against Minneapolis police officers.
But sometimes the Minnesota-ness of the dig makes it unclear which opponent a candidate is actually referencing. Like when Hodges said: “Playing the long game in order to make solid, steady progress on our goals often doesn’t get recognized as leadership in the way that grabbing a headline or a tweet storm does, but that’s how I’ve led and how I will continue to lead.” Was that a shot at Levy-Pounds?
Or when Hoch said he wouldn’t be a mayor who lounges in luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium (Frey and Hodges?) and that he isn’t the type to run for another job before completing a current job (Frey?).
A long slog
There are others who have declared they’re running. Aswar Rahman is a 23-year-old filmmaker who will have to show that he should be in the first tier of candidates. Captain Jack Sparrow remains in the category of frequent candidate/novelty act. And there might be others still, though likely fewer than in 2013 when 35 candidates announced. A change in the city charter to increase the filing fee from $20 to $500 was crafted to reduce the numbers — and to reduce the complexity of the ranked-choice-voting tally.
And while it is possible one of the five major candidates vying for what is technically a non-partisan office gets the DFL endorsement at the city’s July 8 DFL convention, the number of candidates also might preclude one, given that it takes a supermajority. There was no endorsement in 2013.
Even with an endorsement, however, many of the major candidates may remain in the race. Because of the city’s shift to ranked choice voting, there is no long a primary, which leaves a long slog from early July to early November.