The podcast this week is a conversation with David Brauer, a long-time local Minneapolis journalist, all about the upcoming Minneapolis city elections where 13 city council seats and the next mayor will be decided.
We sat down at Butter Bakery Café in Brauer’s beloved Kingfield neighborhood the other day to discuss the election, both the big picture of Minneapolis political history, some of the different mayoral candidates, and also a bit of a ward-by-ward discussion of some of the Council seats.
Though Brauer did state who he is voting for in our conversation, it’s not intended to be an endorsement. Rather I’d hoped to shed some big-picture light on the political minutiae going on in Minneapolis this fall. We had a great chat, and I hope you enjoy it.
WARNING! I do say the words “Rybak-ian zeitgeist” during this conversation.
[Rough and partial transcript follows.]
Q: What’s going on here in the Minneapolis election right now? Explain it to a hypothetical person that just moved to the city from somewhere else, like Denver or something.
City elections in Minneapolis are a bigger deal than the City Elections in Saint Paul, because we do it all at once every four years and we do it in an odd numbered year where there’s no other elections. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl for people who care about the city.
If you came from Denver and landed in Minneapolis and think, “well it doesn’t matter. they’re all liberals.”
There’s some truth to that, but there are some important distinctions at the local level. There are candidates, say, who are more friendly to the police and who are less friendly to the police. There are some candidates who are friendlier to certain kinds of development than others are. There are bike lanes, stuff like that. Racial justice: you have a choice between white people who say they care, white people who actually care, and people who aren’t white. So these are all things that as a citizen as somebody who’s covered politics in Minneapolis for 30 plus years that I think are important.
Q: Explain some of the bigger political trends in Minneapolis
You have to go back 19 years. The biggest election in the city in recent times in my opinion was the 2001 election where RT Rybak beat the two-term incumbent Sharon Sayles-Belton. It really was a big deal because Sharon was supported by the established interests. Up to that time Minneapolis was sucking wind with de-urbanization and had to rely on a lot of subsidies and there was a lot of developer clout at city hall, more than today frankly.
You could argue that the two things that R.T. criticized her the most for, subsidizing rich people’s housing by the Guthrie and subsidizing the target store, both turned out well. But the city was much less confident in itself i tend to vote for people who believe more in this city, people won don’t think we need as many subsidies as others think we do.
R.T. beating Sharon was a big deal because it sort of changed what block was in control, even though the bloc has splintered a little bit. Younger people not quite as much people who are on on the Orchestra Board. But there is a strain that goes to Betsy hodges the incumbent, but if she loses that would to me represents a little bit of a restoration of the Minneapolis Club / Orchestra Hall nexus of older people with money as opposed to younger people and people who are a little more comfortable with change.
Q: You’re a fan of the ranked choice voting system?
Ranked choice also reduced the need for strategic voting. Unfortunately the way Minneapolis enabled RCV you only get three choices on the ballot. What three does to a guy like me is i don’t make a strategic choice with my first choice, i don’t make a strategic choice with my second choices, which is awesome, like a bonus blessing. But at some point you look at the candidates in the rest of the field, and you make a strategic decision. You ask, is there anyone there that I really don’t want to be mayor, and then you make a choice.
I was a big Sharon Sayles Belton in her first term as she was a Wonder Woman as City Council president. In her first term she seemed a bit over her head but kept doing enough to win a second term. By then, R.T. built his team and won the next two terms. Given the economic layout of city policy at that time, I thought he was the right person for the job. He gave the Nicollet Mall a needed lift. Towards the end of his second term, his charm offensive wore thin.
It’s a bit easy to look in retrospect at R.T. and be skeptical of his playbook, button my political realism, I think he was the right person for the kind of “tepid”mayor system Minneapolis has, unfortunately.
I really enjoyed this podcast episode!