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Mayoral news conference turns into Andrew-Hodges spat over utility ballot referendum

Mark Andrew called the idea “reckless and dangerous,” while Betsy Hodges said such a move strengthens the city’s negotiating position.

Mark Andrew wanted to talk Monday about the final 100 days of his campaign.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros

The thing to remember about a Minneapolis mayoral news conference is that a candidate gets to pick the topic but the reporters get to pick the questions.

Mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner, wanted to talk Monday about the final 100 days of his campaign.

He had a sound system, a cheering section of campaign workers and a 2006 Toyota Prius as a backdrop. The car, which belonged to a member of the campaign staff, was newly painted green with the words Mark Andrew Energy Express on the sides.

The questions started with a few polite inquiries about his plan to increase the population of Minneapolis by 100,000 people and double the number of people living downtown from 35,000 to 70,000.

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Then came a hint that he was ready to take some of his opponents to task.

“We have people running for mayor today who have been in office eight years, 10 years, longer, and not once have they raised the issues of rolling out a strategy to grow the population of our city,” said Andrew without naming names.

There are only two candidates for mayor who currently hold elected office. Don Samuels was elected to the City Council in 2003, and Betsy Hodges was elected in 2005.

Then came questions about the idea of Minneapolis taking over the gas and electric utilities — an issue that could be on the November ballot. The franchise agreements with the two utilities expire at the end of 2014, with negotiations on new agreements set to begin early next year.

A public hearing on the possibility of taking over the two utilities will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 317 of City Hall.

Andrew called the idea “reckless and dangerous,” and he was just getting started.

“If it gets on the ballot and fails, we’re in an impossible negotiating position with Xcel,” said Andrew, who opposes putting the issue on the ballot. “This needs to go away.”

“The council member running for mayor who is behind all of this has zero business experience,” he said. “She’s never worked in the private sector a day in her life and doesn’t understand that when we have to negotiate a deal that’s going to be worth billions of dollars to our people, that you can’t go into a discussion in a toxic atmosphere,” said Andrew, still without naming names. “Having this issue on the ballot accomplishes that and nothing else.”

Hodges, the only “she” on the City Council running for mayor, responded to Andrew’s remarks with a statement:

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“Unlike Mark Andrew, who tells different people different things about the franchise agreement, my position has always been that Minneapolis needs to negotiate the best deal possible by considering all options for energy that is affordable, green and reliable.”

Minneapolis Mayor's RaceShe continued: “I’m not going to negotiate the city’s position with Mark Andrew. The next step is for the people of Minneapolis to have their say at Thursday’s public hearing.”

Her campaign also noted that Xcel is a former client of Andrew. (Andrew has acknowledged that his green-marketing firm, GreenMark, had Xcel among its clients in 2008.)

Hodges also cited her work merging two city pension funds with the state pension system as an example of her leadership skills.

Meanwhile, back at the news conference, the questions turned to the Southwest Light Rail Line. Specifically at issue is the standoff between Minneapolis, which doesn’t want light rail and freight both moving through the Kenilworth Corridor, and St. Louis Park which doesn’t want freight trains moving through town two stories up on earthen berms.

Said Andrew: “There will not be co-location in the Kenilworth Corridor. We will not support it under any circumstances.”

Andrew, who was involved in the development of the recreation trails early on as a Hennepin County commissioner, added: “Freight, it was agreed, would go to St. Louis Park 15 years ago. I was there.”

There is concern that the standoff between the two communities could produce a situation where the final decision for both city councils would be to take what is offered by the Metropolitan Council or kill the project by withholding municipal consent.

“I am not in the camp that says lets go full throttle in retreat on light rail,” said Andrew. “There are other options.”

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And then there is Dinkytown. Plans to build a 140-unit apartment building on what is now largely a surface parking lot were rejected earlier by a City Council committee. This has been part of a “Save Dinkytown” campaign against development in the area adjacent to the University of Minnesota.

The full City Council is scheduled Friday to take up the matter of the Dinkytown development.

“The council members are all grown up, and they have every responsibility to negotiate those issues,” said Andrew, who says he likes to see council members rigorously involved in neighborhood issues.

Andrew said he is not personally against the project but has no official position.