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How to stop a DFL endorsement vote for mayor

2017 Minneapolis DFL convention
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Delegates, alternates and other attendees taking their seats at the start of the 2017 Minneapolis DFL convention.

It had been a long day.

When the balloting for mayor at the Minneapolis DFL convention finally took place last Saturday, July 8, it was around 7 p.m. The convention had started before 11 a.m.

Even then, it took another two hours before that first vote was counted and announced, results that were conclusively inconclusive. While it showed the relative strengths and weaknesses of the main four mayoral candidates, it also suggested that none had a chance of getting to the 60 percent margin required to secure the endorsement by party rules.

Of the 1,235 delegates who cast valid ballots, state Rep. Raymond Dehn had received 32.44 percent (401 votes); City Council Member Jacob Frey 27.83 percent (344), Mayor Betsy Hodges 24.19 percent (299) and former Hennepin Theater Trust leader Tom Hoch 10.6 percent (131). Three other candidates — Al Flowers, Aswar Rahman and Captain Jack Sparrow, along with votes for “no endorsement” — shared the remaining 5 percent. As such, Flowers, Rahman and Sparrow would be dropped from a second ballot.

But that second ballot never took place. Less than two hours later, the convention was adjourned — not only without an endorsement for mayor, but without even another vote.

Why that happened was never much of a mystery — the top candidates had agreed to quit the race if another candidate was actually endorsed, which meant that most had little incentive to keep the process going. But how it happened has also become clear, thanks to a recording of the meeting where the decision was made that was recently provided to MinnPost — an account that offers a glimpse of the sort of unsexy intra-party political machinations that, nevertheless, most people aren’t privy to. (An audio clip of the meeting is available at the bottom of this article.)

‘Four politicos’

While delegates mingled and talked and wandered around the Minneapolis Convention Center after the first vote, six people gathered elsewhere in the building to decide what would happen next. At the meeting were representatives from the Dehn, Frey, Hoch and Hodges campaigns, as well as convention co-chair Ann Friedrich and a parliamentarian, Jason Cassady.

After some remarks about how all four of those campaigns "want to end the process for mayoral endorsing," each of the campaigns’ representatives is asked to offer their unique positions on that idea. “It’s the position of the Hoch campaign that we would like the convention to end, there being no possible way for the DFL as a party in its entirety to convey an endorsement on any individual candidate in the mayor’s race,” says Kieran McCarney, Hoch’s campaign manager.

Dehn’s campaign manager, Joelle Stangler, wasn’t so sure about that. “To be quite honest, we fully anticipated going to a second ballot,” she says. “I think there’s opportunity for movement. And we were not really prepared to take a stance, so I’m honestly here listening because I found out about this conversation because I saw three campaigns going to meet without me.”

“And then we reached out, we wanted to make sure everyone was included,” interjects Sydney Jordan, Frey’s political director. “We definitely didn’t even start any conversations.”

“I really do believe that, and I appreciate it. But I’m still sort of like thinking through what makes sense for our campaign,” Stangler says. “I think really the delegates should decide if we go home, not four politicos.”

Then Jim Niland of the Hodges campaign weighs in: “We would like the process for balloting on mayor to end,” he says. “We are fine with the central committee being forbidden from endorsing between now and the general election. We are fine with a constituency endorsement still remaining in place.” (Subgroups of the city party, such as the DFL Environmental Caucus, can endorse if the broader party does not.)

“That’s our position as well,” says Jordan, from Frey’s campaign. “We want to make sure all candidates retain their constituency endorsements and we also don’t want to bar any further constituency caucuses from endorsing.”

‘The point of this is to get out on time’

After some talk among the group, convention co-chair Ann Friedrich then outlines the process that would follow, an explanation that leads the campaigns to debate whether there should be one motion or two: one to direct the central committee and another to adjourn or a single motion containing both. Friedrich tells them any such motion would be debatable, with up to three speeches in favor and three against.

“So a motion to adjourn would be a main motion,” she says. “Unlike a privileged motion to adjourn, this one is debatable. People probably argue that, but it is. But it just requires a majority vote. It is theoretically amendable.”

When someone asks if the convention is still in recess, Friedrich says: “We’re gonna stay in recess until we figure this out.”

McCarney, from Hoch’s campaign, tries to clarify:  “And then once [the motion to adjourn is] passed, this body’s business with the mayors race would be done. And there would be no avenue for the Minneapolis DFL as a unique legal entity to convey an endorsement.”

When someone enters the room to check on the meeting, they're told: “Tell them we’re figuring it out.”

Eventually, Hodges campaign rep, Niland, summarizes the deal: “I think the position of the Frey, Hoch and Hodges campaigns is we would make a motion to adjourn with direction to the central committee not to endorse before the second ballot is taken. That would be our position.”

Niland then asks Stangler for her thoughts. “I think that decision should be left up to the delegates,” she says. “I don’t feel comfortable with us four making it. But I anticipated this, and I’m like, ‘This is like how this game works.’ I appreciate you inviting me to this conversation. I understand there was no requirement to or need to.”

Stangler then wonders if the three candidates who would have been dropped by convention rules from that second ballot — Al Flowers, Aswar Rahman and Captain Jack Sparrow — would have chance to speak to the convention.

“I think the point of this is to get out on time, so let’s get out,” someone says before the meeting breaks up.

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Comments (6)

"I think the point of this is

"I think the point of this is to get out on time, so let’s get out,” someone says before the meeting breaks up.

If the point was really to get out on time, it's a terrible process.

To h*ll with the 1,200 delegates - let's US 5 decide !!

A marvelous picture of how the Mpls DFL actually works - quite a lot like mimicry of the state DFL and the national DNC. A handful make the actual decisions, the majority are merely served a palliative or two.

I took part once - and only once - many years ago in a DFL caucus, as a newcomer. Seeing how the "game" (see article above) was played, I couldn't imagine joining the diehards to see if someday, somehow, my voice and vote might mean something.

I'd be curious to know how the DFL is doing recruiting young newcomers, which they badly need to revitalize the party, when it is so clear they intend to ignore their input.

Great column, Mr. Callaghan !!

I'm disappointed....

As a past member of DFL MN Senate District [old 59] and current SD 60 Central Committee and Board of Directors, I'm disappointed in the lack of gumption and enthusiasm by the four major DFL campaigns' desires to "get out on time." Democracy's time-clock requires patience and enthusiasm to get our work done -- without the constraints of linear-time attitudes.

While I am impressed with Jacob Frey, a former colleague in DFL [old] SD 59 leadership community, who is the current Minneapolis Ward Three councilman, and, also, ideals of Tom Hoch in encouraging and impressing upon our property-development community on the importance of affordable housing as a community asset for businesses and community development, I was saddened to read of their campaigns' desire to let linear-time constructs invade their work as Democrats.

Tom Hoch does not currently have the popular awareness of most delegates or constituents that Mr. Frey and Mr. Dehn have developed. Former MN State Representative Phyllis Kahn, who preeminently served [old] HD 59B for 44-years as a scientist, feminist, and environmentalist, among others, recently shared her enthusiasm for Tom Hoch with me. I then recently met with one of his campaign officers at Mapps Coffee and Tea Shoppe, under the KFAI studio near Cedar and Riverside avenues, and was left very interested in Tom's background as an attorney and entertainment industry leader in Minneapolis and Hennepin County.

Jacob Frey has done wonderful things for Ward Three in the northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods and the downtown North Loop area. He usually resounds with enthusiasm and competence, and will do great things in his life; like developer George Sherman, Frey, a long-distance runner, came in first place at the Pan-Am marathon several years ago -- as a professional runner for the U.S. team.

Frey easily works with a very hand on, and sociable, approach with members of the small business community and larger businesses, including property developers and other citizens and immigrants alike. Like Tom Hoch, whom I believe received his J.D. from University of Minnesota; Frey is an attorney with training from Villanova University. He worked as an associate attorney at Dorsey & Whitney in downtown Minneapolis, and for another firm in Minneapolis.

All said, however, I do not approve or enjoy hearing that DFL candidates and their campaigns buckle to the idea of the "get it done and leave on time," mentality. My preference is "if you can't get it done on time, work overtime toward your goals."

We have a moral imperative as Democrats, to develop our attitudes toward winning all of our campaigns with enthusiasm and consideration for both our social agendas, as well as what, generally, both Tom and Jacob do in their professional lives -- work in an intelligent and competent fashion with businesses.

Barry N. Peterson
De La Salle High School, Minneapolis, Class of 1980
University of Minnesota, B.A., History, Class of 1996

Confusing

It very much seems like the Dehn campaign wanted to continue and let the delegates have their say, but the Hodges, Frey, and Hoch campaigns preferred otherwise. I'd rather support someone who wants to let party members who willingly spent a beautiful Saturday in the Convention Center have their say rather than letting a few campaign staff members decide to end it all with a big question mark.

I'm also confused by why you gave Frey credit for what's going on in the North Loop and Northeast but not Hodges, who has been Mayor during this time and was on the Council when these changes got going and much of the structural framework was put into place. If you took Frey at face value you'd think the North Loop was some hopeless place the day he was elected, even though it was already booming. While it's true he has been a good steward to that growth, the wheels were well in motion before he even announced his intentions to run for the Council.

Keep It In the Family

I'm all for ditching primaries, which MPLS and St. Paul have done for municipal elections. I'd go one step further and just let parties pick their own candidates, like other democracies do. A party is a private organization. If you wish to influence that organization, join it. Why should people who are not Republicans choose the Republican candidate? Let the parties pick their own candidates and put them on the ballot. Don't like a candidate? Don't vote for him or her. Can't get endorsed by the party you like? Try another party, start your own party, or run as an independent.

If a party is unable to reach a consensus on who to run, then they don't get a line on the ballot. A party can use any process they want to choose their candidate, be it a convention, mail in ballot, on line vote, etc.

Endorsement

I have lots of criticisms of the DFL endorsement process (which should be scrapped) but adjourning this fiasco is not one of them. You need 60 percent to endorse. The leading candidate barely had half of that. You could have had 10 ballots and the result would have been the same. The people who decided to end this thing just recognized that reality and decided to spare the delegates a painful night.