City Council Member Gary Schiff went to the Minneapolis DFL convention expecting to finish second on the first ballot of the mayoral endorsement contest. Instead, he finished third.
“We were absolutely wrong and absolutely confident that we were in second place,” said Schiff, reflecting in an interview on recent events that included no convention endorsement and his eventual decision to drop out of the race.
On the first ballot, he finished behind the two front-runners — former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew and City Council Member Betsy Hodges — and he dropped farther behind in the second round.
The disappointing results prompted him to announce quickly that he was out of the endorsement battle but would continue his mayoral campaign. He also asked his convention delegates to switch their support vote to Hodges.
“Some of my supporters started going to Betsy,” said Schiff, noting that she was the only candidate to send a “substantial” policy packet to each delegate in the days before the convention. Those same delegates had received a letter from Schiff.
“Convention environments are lousy environments to make life decisions,” said Schiff. So instead, he went to the North Shore to talk with some supporters whose advice he values. He ended up deciding to end his mayoral campaign — the first candidate to drop out.
“I made the decision that I wasn’t going to move forward with the campaign and that I was going to support Betsy,” said Schiff. Meanwhile, before his public announcement last Wednesday, his campaign manager, Mark Warren, resigned and noted afterward that he did not see a “pathway to victory.”
“There were two strong progressive candidates in the race,” said Schiff. “When it came down to it, it was either a decision to split the progressive base or allow Betsy Hodges, who had built a stronger campaign than I did, to go ahead and take the lead.”
Schiff was the first candidate to announce he was running for mayor after incumbent R.T. Rybak made public his decision not to run again.
The 9th Ward council member kicked off his campaign with a group of 100-plus owners of small businesses and promises that he would make Minneapolis an easier city for them to thrive. By the time the endorsing convention rolled around, the number of business owners supporting him had more than doubled.
Looking back, Schiff says he has learned a lot of since launching his exploratory campaign for mayor last December.
And one of those insights, he said, is that ranked-choice voting is changing Minneapolis in some unintended ways.
In his view, “It simply costs more money to compete with five other candidates in a November election than it costs to come in first or second in a primary.”
In the old system, Schiff said, candidates could target their message first at the 25 percent of the voters who cast ballots in a primary election and then at the 50 percent who would vote in November.
The other problem he encountered is that campaign contributions are limited to $500 for each candidate, which Schiff says gives wealthy candidates an advantage.
“If you have deep pockets, you can self-finance and you don’t have to spend time on the phone raising money in $500 increments, “said Schiff. “I’ve never represented a wealthy area of the city. I don’t have personal wealth, and so there will be an advantage in the future for wealthy candidates.”
Schiff started his mayoral campaign on a credit card. There is no limit to how much of their own money candidates can spend. And there is no limit to how many candidates a donor can fund.
Schiff’ says his donors will be hearing from him.
“I will be working very hard in the next months to call all of my donors and ask them to give to Betsy Hodges for mayor,” he said. “Ironically, if you don’t have deep pockets, and there’s a cap on the size of contributions, it means you are spending more time fundraising than actually campaigning.”
He added: “I’m still engaged, and I’m still spending every day for the next five months helping to get Betsy Hodges elected as the next mayor of Minneapolis.”
Schiff and Hodges have served together on the City Council for eight years, sharing a progressive political philosophy but not many committee assignments.
“I knew Betsy very well, but my opinion of Betsy grew by leaps and bounds throughout the campaign,” said Schiff.
The candidates participated in more than a dozen debates before the DFL convention. Schiff says that the more he saw of Hodges on the campaign stump, the more he admired her and her progressive stand on the issues facing Minneapolis.
Schiff’s ultimate view of the political realities: “If I had stayed in the race through November only to see a repeat of the convention and come in third — and continue to have two progressive candidates both speaking the same values, getting outspent again and again and again by an old-guard candidate with deep pockets — I wouldn’t have felt very good about myself.”
Come January, when his City Council career comes to an end, Schiff says he has no idea what he will be doing but does know it will involve building a progressive agenda.
“I think it’s important that campaigns be focused on values and not be exercises in egos,” he said. “I’m glad I ran. I’m proud of the campaign I ran, completely proud of the volunteers and supporters.”