Park Commissioner Bob Fine stood in front of the Lake Harriet Band Shell, just a short walk from the beach he patrolled as a lifeguard 44 years ago, and announced Monday that he is leaving a job he loves to run for Minneapolis mayor.
The fact that he is getting a late start in an already crowded race does not deter him.
“I don’t believe most of the voters of the city have made up their minds,” said Fine, who is 64. He points out that most of the other candidates focused their campaign efforts on DFL delegates until the city convention in June, so he is not really that far behind the pack.
“I think I have a lot of fresh ideas and I have ideas that will probably resonate with a lot of people,” he said.
“People know who I am. They know about the park system, They know generally how well the park system has been run,” said Fine, who also serves on the Board of Estimate and Taxation and spent 18 years as a member of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission.
One of the factors that helped him decide to switch races is the current debate about a proposed city takeover of the gas and electric utilities.
“It sort of solidified everything I was looking at,” he said. “Philosophically, what are we doing here, and why are we moving ahead so fast when it could have huge financial implications?”
As a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, he is familiar with how much debt the city carries.
When Minneapolis was building the downtown library, its debt topped out at $1.15 billion but is now at $680 million, he said. He believes the city debt could hit five times the current level if Minneapolis moves ahead on a takeover.
“We’re going to burden the city, and for what?” said Fine, who likens the utility takeover in a quest for lower rates to a city takeover of the grocery stores to increase healthy eating. “We don’t need to be heading in that direction.”
“I’m not that worried about any of the endorsements because, quite frankly, I can’t remember an election that I haven’t come from behind,” said Fine, who has grown accustomed to people telling him he is headed for defeat.
“I’ve won the last four times, and each time I’ve had strong candidates and people running against me and I’ve been outspent in every election,” said Fine. Four years ago, he switched his Park Board candidacy from the district seat representing the southwest corner of the city to the at-large citywide seat.
By the time he entered the race for the at-large seat, there were already four endorsed candidates. He finished first.
“I can’t say I campaigned very hard,” said Fine, who credits ranked-choice voting for his victory. He also says he intends to campaign hard in the race for mayor.
He is a “little bit undecided” in the Southwest Light Rail battle shaping up between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. The Metropolitan Council is scheduled to decide Aug. 28 if the freight trains will be relocated to St. Louis Park, which that city opposes, or if both lines will run through the Kenilworth Corridor, which Minneapolis opposes.
“The problem is the alternatives and some of the options are becoming very costly,” said Fine of the estimated $1.82 billion pricetag. “It can’t be so costly.”
He says what sets him apart from the other candidates is his knowledge of how Minneapolis operates and his background as an attorney and a property manager.
“I understand how to run things as a business. I’m not a full-time politician,” said Fine, who thinks he can raise enough money to run a decent campaign, although not as much money as some of the candidates who have been in the race since the start of the year.
He said the decision to walk away from his seat on the Park Board did not come easy.
“It was a tough decision,” he said. Fine noted that the mayor has veto power over the Park Board and said he knows the projects and issues and would stay involved with what he calls “the best park system in America.”
If he becomes mayor, Fine said he would ask for an audit of every city department and work to reduce property taxes by 5 percent.