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What we learned from the Minneapolis DFL convention

Mayor Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
After failing to win even a quarter of the delegate votes, it's obvious that Mayor Betsy Hodges is fighting for her political life.

If Betsy Hodges is searching for some solace — and she might after what proved to be a rough weekend for the Minneapolis mayor — she need look no further than page 129 of her predecessor’s memoir.

“The first part of the campaign was the toughest,” former Mayor R.T. Rybak writes in his book, “Pothole Confidential,” about first re-election effort. And: “The single worst day was the endorsing convention.”

As in 2005, when Rybak was running for his second term, the delegates who convened at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Saturday couldn’t agree on which candidate to endorse, which leaves a wide-open mayoral election this fall.

And as also happened in 2005, the incumbent mayor this year is under assault by critics and a strong opponent.

Back then, it was Peter McLaughlin, then and now a Hennepin County commissioner, who had more support among delegates than Rybak, though — spoiler alert — Rybak ended up winning a second term quite handily that November and a third four years later, eventually going become one of the city’s more popular mayors.

If Hodges is ever to write a similar comeback chapter about her political career, she’ll have to overcome a similarly rough start. While mutually assured destruction by four strong candidates kept any from being endorsed by the city DFL on Saturday, there was a more imporant takeaway: After failing to win even a quarter of the delegate votes, it's obvious that the mayor is in a real fight for reelection.

“This is a difficult and complicated process for a lot of people,” Hodges said late Saturday night. “And I don’t think anyone is surprised that there wasn’t an endorsement. There hasn’t been an endorsement in a contested mayoral race in a generation. But this means we can move forward and talk to voters as we head to the general election and I’m excited about that.”

A win for Dehn? 

That process included an extremely long wait before there even was a first vote on a mayoral endorsement. The first balloting for the candidates didn't take place until 7 p.m. — at a convention that was supposed to start at 10 a.m.  Even then it took two hours before that first vote was counted and announced, with the results as follows: State Rep. Ray Dehn got 32.44 percent of the 1,253 voting delegates, Council Member Jacob Frey 27.83 percent, Hodges 24.19 percent and former Hennepin Theater Trust leader Tom Hoch 10.6 percent.

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 have been dropped from a second ballot. (Another DFL candidate, Nekima Levy-Pounds, did not seek party approval.)

But that second ballot never happened. After another 90 minutes of hanging around, some backroom deal-making and a brief-but-still-somewhat-bitter debate, the convention was adjourned without an endorsement for mayor.

That came after operatives for Hodges, Frey and Hoch agreed to support the adjournment vote over the objections of Dehn. While he said he doubted he would have gotten to the 60 percent endorsement threshold, Dehn said he thought his share of the delegates would have grown in subsequent votes. That he was denied that opportunity played into his message — that he's the outsider taking on a party establishment frightened by the incursion of new activists.

State Rep. Raymond Dehn
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
State Rep. Raymond Dehn, right, talking to former judge and State Sen. Jack Davies prior to the convention.

In a long day with few winners, Dehn at least ended it with bragging rights.

“I’m really, really proud of the coalition we built,” Dehn said shortly before his rivals prevailed on the adjournment vote. “We did this without big money, we did this without incumbency. I think people would be shocked that we did this with less than $50,000.”

And Dehn returned to themes he used in his convention speech: “People want to see a difference in how our government is responsive to them. I think people want someone who will sit down with them and talk about what’s important to people’s lives in our city. “

The Our Revolution effect

City conventions start and end with organizing. The candidates who win are those who have troops in the room during the dozens of precinct caucuses that take place months earlier. That was at least one factor in Hoch’s fourth-place finish.

Then there are organizations who are attached more to a movement than to specific candidates — groups like Our Revolution, which evolved out of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Dehn was the most obvious beneficiary of Our Revolution at the DFL caucuses in April, and the group’s strength at Saturday's city convention became obvious even before voting for the mayoral endorsement began.

In the race to get the endorsement for the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, 19 candidates were vying for three at-large spots and six district seats, a group that included five incumbents (although one was leaving a district seat to run for an at-large one). By the time voting was completed, all but one of the candidates endorsed by Our Revolution were endorsed. The only one who didn’t win an endorsement was AK Hassan, who ended the night in a close race with Abdi “Gurhan” Mohamed.

Mayoral candidate Tom Hoch
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Mayoral candidate Tom Hoch chatting with delegates before the convention.

Russ Henry, Londel French and Devin Hogan won endorsements for the at-large seats, while Chris Meyer (District 1), Kale Severson (District 2), Jono Cowgill (District 4) and incumbent Brad Bourn (District 6) secured them in the district races. (Another incumbent, Steffanie Musich, won the endorsement for the District 5 race, for which Our Revolution didn’t endorse.)

Not endorsed was at-large incumbent Meg Forney, current District 3 incumbent Scott Vreeland (who was running at large in order to make room for a person of color in his seat), and District 1 incumbent Liz Wielinski. All had pledged to drop out if they weren’t endorsed. Four other incumbents are not seeking re-election: Anita Tabb, John Erwin, Jon Olson and Annie Young.

All of which did not portend good things for the mayor. As Hodges delegate and self-described ex-journalist David Brauer tweeted: “Based on the Park Board vote — several incumbents knocked out — I’d be surprised if @raymonddehn wasn’t first place on 1st ballot.” 

The general election starts now

So what’s the difference between the DFL convention and the November election? Around 78,000 votes. Also, an electorate that is broader than what turned out for the DFL process, which goes from the April precinct caucuses through the city convention.

So if Saturday was the equivalent of a final Spring Training game — where teams get one final look at what they and their opponents have — the regular season starts now. “The question is, what are the conversations we’re gonna have with voters between now and November,” Hodges said.

Dehn said he is frequently asked why voters shouldn’t give Hodges one more chance. “I respond by saying, ‘Do you think our city can have four more years like the past four years?’ ”

Frey and Hoch also pointed to Hodges’ weakness in looking toward the fall election. “We feel great leading into the general,” said Frey. “I’m blown away that 76 percent of the convention voted for a change in direction.”

“This just re-affirms our belief that Minneapolis is anxious for a change in leadership,” Hoch campaign manager Kieran McCarney said in a statement Saturday. “It really shows a weakness in the campaign when an incumbent [is] failing to secure their party’s endorsement.”

Candidates exchange fire

One of the putative upsides of Ranked Choice Voting, the candidate ranking system that will be used in the November election, is that candidates will run more positive campaigns. That’s because they don’t want to alienate supporters of rivals in hopes of winning their second- or-third-choice votes.

That may happen, but it wasn’t obvious from those candidates' behavior on Saturday. Either specific or indirect, by the candidates themselves or their surrogates, there were plenty of shots taken at the convention.

As the incumbent, Hodges bore the brunt of them. Hoch said the mayor has no plan for the city’s growth and prosperity. Frey made a reference to the mayor’s fondness for process: “If you want a mayor who’s just going to start another task force or ward group and call it a result, don’t vote for me.”

But Hodges also punched back.

“Tom Hoch thinks the Nicollet Mall should be on time and on budget when it has been all along, because we are implementing the plan he agreed to as chair of the Downtown Council,” Hodges said. “And Jacob Frey thinks we should come up with a plan to end homelessness in five years when we’re already implementing a plan … to end it in three.”

Council Member Jacob Frey
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Council Member Jacob Frey speaking to supporters following the convention.

Perhaps anticipating the strength of the Our Revolution delegates, Dehn mostly escaped criticism, though that didn’t stop his surrogates from offering critiques of others. During state Rep. Ilhan Omar’s speech endorsing him, she took issue with a Star-Tribune article published in May on the questionnaires interest groups ask candidates to fill out, which noted that Dehn pledged to veto any ordinances opposed by Our Revolution and agreed to the principle of  “co-governance” with TakeAction Minnesota.

Omar said that as a mother of a black son, she is “more worried about him coming home safe from the corner store than refuting a misrepresentation of a candidate’s commitment to co-governance.”

She followed that with a reference to last week’s dust-up over reports that Frey had accepted a donation from the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis in 2015, shortly after the police killing of Jamar Clark. “I saw Ray at the 4th Precinct protests listening to constituents and talking about police reform rather than accepting police donations,” she said.

In his own speech, Minneapolis activist Flowers, who is positioning his campaign as an effort to draw attention to the gun violence in his neighborhood, summarized the convention and the coming campaign. “If you don’t endorse me then you shouldn’t endorse anyone,” Flowers said. “Because you should make everybody fight. Make us fight for your vote to the end. And make sure they’re telling you the truth.”

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Comments (18)

What we learned

That the caucus/endorsement process is a bad idea that has outlived any usefulness it might have had.

The fact that a small, unrepresentive group of voters won't be able to use a terribly undemocratic process to choose the mayor is a good thing.

That a lot of poor souls wasted a whole Saturday on this nonsense.

Should have seen it coming

I live in Kingfield at the edge of southwest Minneapolis and as a delegate at Saturday's convention, I think that people resorting to delegitimizing the results because they think one group or another may have had 'outsized influence' is indicative of the results. I sat in the row behind David Brauer, in Park District 6 where there was a fairly even distribution of delegates for each of the top four mayoral candidates. I support Dehn and have never connected with Our Revolution. Living in the same house in the same neighborhood for 25 years, I've lived the transitions bringing issues to a head in this election and after careful research of the candidates, Dehn and Frey are the two who are ready with action agendas addressing the critical concerns. Blogs, platitudes and branding completely misses that mark for voters this year. I'm with Dehn not because he's with Our Revolution but because he gets and understands the needs of Minneapolis right now and those needs do not include a 'growth' agenda at the moment but a 'community first' agenda.

Please

First of all, there were no results to delegitimize. No one got the endorsement. The guy who finished first had 32 percent. The whole thing was completely meaningless from a results standpoint. My criticism of caucuses has nothing to do with the outcome. If Dehn wins an election where everyone is given an opportunity to vote, good for him.

The undemocratic and exclusionary nature of caucuses has been apparent long before 2017. The legislature eliminated the sham of the presidential caucuses last year, and hopefully Minneapolis will follow soon

Process

Although there maybe a better process for candidates to obtain the DFL endorsement in the future we have no choice but to play the DFL game the way it has been played for years.

The notion that a small amount of people are deciding who gets the endorsements is not true. Delegates are elected by their neighbors at the precinct caucuses. At my caucus there were 150 people attending and people who wanted to be delegates gave a speech and their neighbors voted who would best support their ideologies at the DFL convention.

If people DO NOT attend their caucus and participate in the election process they cannot complain !!!

Completely wrong

So do people who do not attend because they can't get to complain? If you are in the active military and you are disenfranchised by the caucus process, can you complain? If your work prevented you from attending, can you complain? If childcare requirements made it impossible to attend, can you complain? If you are elderly or disabled and can't stand and wait (which occurred at my presidential caucus last year) can you complain?

We complain about Trump's voter suppression efforts, but caucuses are far more disenfranchising. The idea that this process is democratic and open to everyone is elitist and offensive. Voting should be made easy. You should be able to do it in a few minutes when you have time. The idea that only people who can commit large blocks of time at specific, limited times and places get to vote is the antithesis of democracy.

Complain

If you are unable to attend caucus you can write a letter and give it to neighbor to bring or mail it to ward chair. This happens often.
I agree the process in not adequate but it is what it is for now. I do not enjoy sitting around all day with democratic party hacks myself. Especially after the election fraud from DNC and Hillary in 2016.

Letter

Writing a letter works if there are fewer people than delegates allowed. If it's competitive, you aren't getting through with a letter when others showed up. Unless you are privileged enough to be able to attend, you are disenfranchised by the caucuses. The system is indefensible.

It is what it is for now, but it can change. Again, Minneaota did away with presidential caucuses after what happened last year. There were resolutions in St. Paul this year to do away with the caucus system altogether. You shouldn't have to spend a day with people you don't like to have your voice heard, especially since absolutely nothing was accomplished (mayor-wise, maybe you care about park board).

All those

All those who demonstrate that they are DFLers to the satisfaction of all the long suffering delegates to these torture sessions, should be endorsed, and with the advent of Minneapolis ranked choice voting, only the voters should do the choosing. It should be about airing views, not toeing some line.

I am sick and tired of the notion that disagreement is somehow uncivil and look forward to another wide open field of mayoral candidates; it is a shame that we lost so many good ones in the other races due to this shameful waste of a beautiful Saturday.

Peter McLaughlin, a man with real experience and abilities, would have been exponentially better mayor than R.T. Rybak. McLauglin harkened back to the most effective mayors, a small, small group in Minneapolis history that includes Hubert Humphrey and Donald Fraser. R.T. harkened back to the other sorts.

We'd be better off without any mayors, though, and a switch to Council-manager government with wide open Council races in November could give us unprecedented high levels of effectiveness.

Disaster

Peter needs to be voted OUT!!! He championed Hiawatha LRT thru Minnehaha park instead of using the existing roadway. Currently he is working on SWLRT that is being rammed through an urban forest at the head of the chain of lakes between Cedar and Lake of the Isles instead of using Uptown where the majority of the people live !!!

He needs to go ..... hopefully Minneapolis will find a progressive candidate to take him on and WIN !!

Can someone clarify what exactly was misrepresented?

Rep. Ilhan Omar said that the Dehn campaign pledge to co-governance was misrepresented. The position of the campaign was quoted in the Star Tribune :

http://www.startribune.com/co-govern-make-a-no-veto-promise-minneapolis-...

The question was: ""Will you commit not to veto any city council action supported by Our Revolution Twin Cities?"

"State Rep. Ray Dehn, however, who has built momentum in his mayoral campaign partly with the help of Our Revolution, said yes.

“Our Revolution’s values follow Bernie’s values and Ray endorsed Bernie, and we don’t anticipate there would be proposals supported by Our Revolution that don’t align with our values,” said Joelle Stangler, Dehn’s campaign manager.

Were he running for City Council, Stangler said, Dehn probably would have answered differently, but he believes that by the time an Our Revolution-supported action reaches the mayor’s desk it will have been vetted by the council."

The words of the campaign manager would support the pledge for co-governance from the Mayors office, in essence they are so philosophically aligned they can't envision disagreeing so they would agree to enforce the Our Revolution enforced policies. While Our Revolution has since expressed regret for asking for the pledge and the wording, the campaign at the time, did agree to their request - so while people can say "oh what they really meant was...." that doesn't undo the pledge made in the first place to commit to no Veto's of bills Our Revolution supported.

So I would like to know what was misrepresented in the story which recounted Dehn's agreement to the veto-pledge - and I don't think expressing concern for childrens safey is mutually exclusive with such an explanation.

Pattern

If you followed Omar's shifting stories about her marriages, it becomes apparent that her M.O. Is to shoot the messenger rather than facing up to uncomfortable truths.

http://m.startribune.com/marriage-discrepancy-clouds-ilhan-omar-s-histor...

Process vs. Issues

This article is all about process. What issues differentiate these candidates from each other? Is there even one candidate who isn't trying to be the most economically unrealistic left-wing ideologue?

Minneapolis Board of Estimate & Taxation

The article neglected to mention that Carol Becker and I were unanimously endorsed by exclamation at about 2 PM. We both run citywide for this office which brings together the mayor and council the park board and the two were elected at-large to do the capital bonding for the city and it's at the maximum tax levy for the Council .

And you both deserved

And you both deserved endorsement! Never met anyone more excited about numbers than you two.

Correction - tough to edit on a phone - better now!

The article neglected to mention that Carol Becker and I were unanimously endorsed by exclamation at about 2 PM. We both run citywide for this office which brings together the Mayor and Council President, Chair of Ways and Means, a Park Board representation and the two elected at-large members to do the capital bonding for the city and set the maximum tax levy for the Council.

Correction

"another task force or ward group"

It was "another taskforce or workgroup."

Nicollet Mall

Why is Hodges still under the delusion that the mall project is on time? Speak to the people working on the project, and they'll tell you it's 6-8 months behind schedule.

Nicollet mall

I work a block off Nicollet mall, so I am well aware of what a mess it is and has been for a long time. But is there an actual schedule? Was there a finish date when the project started?