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Minneapolis’ DFL precinct caucuses: ‘Wedge’ issues — and complications in the 10th Ward

Delegate selection no easy task as thousands of DFLers turned out for city caucuses, the first step in the endorsement process for city office endorsements.

Thousands of DFLers turned out at caucuses throughout Minneapolis Tuesday night.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

It took nearly three hours and walking sub-caucuses to select 67 delegates to Minneapolis’ 10th Ward DFL convention, but residents of the neighborhood known as the Wedge weren’t about to make peace just so they could go home early.

 They came to their precinct caucus to be counted, and if it took three hours, then they were willing to invest three hours.

Thousands of DFLers turned out at caucuses throughout the city Tuesday night, the first step in the process that eventually will produce party endorsements for mayor and City Council races.

It all started simply enough with a standing-room-only crowd in a Jefferson School music classroom in the 10th Ward.

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For the record, there are four candidates running for the City Council seat currently occupied by DFLer Meg Tuthill.

DFLer Lisa Bender is Tuthill’s neighbor and a challenger. Both live in the Wedge, and both were elected delegates to the April 27 ward convention. DFLers Ken Bradley and Kendal Killian are also running for the seat, and both dropped by to say a few words.

“I will represent those who often do not have a seat at the table,” said Bradley, who advertises himself as an energy and environmental organizer. For his trouble, he emerged with three of the 67 delegates.

“I know how to solve big things because I’ve done it before,” said Killian, who has been an active DFL organizer since moving to Minneapolis on a Greyhound bus. Yes, moving here on a bus was part of his campaign speech. He also ended the night with three of the 67 delegates.

“I’ll provide the leadership we need to bring people together,” said Bender, who is a transportation coordinator by trade. Her supporters — some easy to spot in their maroon Lisa Bender T-shirts — emerged with 22 delegates.

“I would like to be retained as your Council Member for another four years,” said Tuthill, who noted that if she loses the race, the ward would once again be represented by a new face without the seniority to chair a committee. At the end of the night, Tuthill walked away with 36 of the 67 delegates.

It sounds simple, but these are Minneapolis DFLers.

By 7:30 p.m., they had completed eight of 12 items on the required DFL agenda and were ready to select delegates. The instructions to the crowd were simple: “If you want to be a delegate, raise your hand.”

That produced the required 67 volunteers but was not in compliance with the DFL’s gender equity requirement.

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There were too many men. And there were those 17 letters from other Wedge residents who wanted to be delegates but were unable to attend the precinct caucus. What to do with them?

To make things easier, or perhaps to illustrate the problem, caucus officials moved the wannabe women delegates to one side of the room and the men to another. They then asked if any of the men would volunteer to be alternates instead. No one budged.

“It’s kind of sunk in we’ve got a mess here,” said one of the men.

At this point, there was some discussion about gender equity being unfair because it ignores racial and ethnic status. It was an argument that, while interesting, was not going anywhere because the DFL Party rules require gender equity. The delegation must be half male, half female.

“I’m having serious thoughts about why I want to be here,” said one wanna-be delegate.

One option was to send a delegation that was not in compliance with the equity requirement to the ward convention and let the Credentials Committee or the Rules Committee there decide who is and isn’t a delegate. But no one seemed interested in that risky proposal. And still none of the men were willing to change their status from delegate to alternate.

Then came the suggestion of a walking sub-caucus,  a process that was popular with DFLers in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It was designed to give strength to minority delegates or delegates who championed candidates or issues without large numbers of supporters.

The process starts with people walking to a designated location to support a candidate or cause. The idea is to get as many people as possible in your group by accepting smaller groups in search of strength that comes with large numbers.

At times, it can become goofy. The Save the Whales group merges with the Wind Power group that then joins the Smith for Mayor group and suddenly Smith has more delegates. But Smith also has some commitment to Whales and Wind that might not have been part of the campaign platform.

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This can also take a lot of time, and at this point, time was running out on the Wedge folks. They had the classroom until 9 p.m. which gave them 20 minutes to get the job done.

Steven Prince, self-described parliamentarian and sergeant-at-arms, assigned room corners and hallway space to supporters of the council candidates.

At that point, a large group declared themselves to be the “I love the Wedge-Undecided” caucus. Bender and Tuthill each had a crowd, with a few Killian and Bradley supporters looking lonely in their assigned corners.

And then there was the merger. The “I love the Wedge-Undecided” group joined the Tuthill group, and it was all over but the final counting.

They finished the night with 32 female delegates and 35 male delegates, which is compliant with the DFL gender-equity requirement because it is the product of a walking sub-caucus.

That took three hours. They were not out of the room by 9 p.m. And they still had to deal with those letters from would-be delegates. But they were smiling. Everyone seemed to think they had won something.

That was just one of nine precincts that will assemble, back at Jefferson School, the morning of April 27 to see if they can give DFL endorsement to one of the four candidates in the race for City Council.

Do not rule out the return of walking sub-caucuses at the ward convention.