There’s a changing wind in the world of Minneapolis politics.
If the local election last Tuesday was any evidence, the hugely funded, name-recognized and/or union-supported campaigns slipped in a dramatic fashion.
Although they don’t always catch national attention, local politics carry a certain type of stigma in discussion. Many political powerhouse leaders or groups are situated in big-city “small” politics, and most of them claim big stakes in their respective cities.
For an extreme example, members of Chicago’s Daley family held the mayor’s office for years. Many of Chicago’s aldermen have held office like political “dynasties,” as one Chicago Tribune reporter put it.
But now political power seems to come from neighborhood coalitions rather than union endorsements.
“The traditional election of machine politics is not as effective as it used to be,” Abou Amara, policy director for the Don Samuels campaign, told MinnPost. “It’s more coalition politics. How we talk to voters is fundamentally different. Now we talk more about issues and policy.”
Since I’ve only been voting for three years, it still seems odd to me that politics, especially local campaigns, could be driven by something other than the actual issues.
In the past, elections have been little more than fundraising contests, but that was far from the case this year.
With almost 10,000 more first-choice votes, Betsy Hodges easily defeated Mark Andrew in the Minneapolis mayoral race. Andrew raised about $135,000 more than Hodges along with endorsements from significant local unions. The old-time establishment DFL would tell you that this is the ultimate path to campaign success. The voting public displayed otherwise.
“In my opinion, the Mark Andrew campaign led a message of inevitability since the summer,” said Andrew Degerstrom, an Urban Studies senior and co-founder of Students Unite for Betsy Hodges. “In a state as liberal as Minnesota, and further, a city as liberal as Minneapolis, it reflects poorly on the establishment-DFL types to have their favored candidate finish a relatively distant second.”
This year’s complicated and lengthy DFL mayoral convention ended with no endorsement.
The mayor’s race was one issue, but the DFL endorsement for some high-stakes City Council races proved revealing as well. In some cases, the party backed challengers over incumbents.
Invigorated by a surge in voter participation from youth and minorities, candidates for wards 3, 6 and 10 swooped in to grab the DFL endorsement from incumbents.
In Ward 3, Jacob Frey mobilized a large youthful following and has been cited as accessible and close to individuals in the race. He easily won the DFL endorsement in April. Incumbent Diane Hofstede, on the other hand, has family ties to politics — she is the sister-in-law of former Minneapolis mayor Albert Hofstede — and she enjoyed traditional endorsements from the likes of Gov. Mark Dayton. Hofstede decided to continue running after losing the endorsement.
In the end, Frey was able to out-fundraise Hofstede and won with 61 percent of first-choice votes.
In Ward 6, Abdi Warsame, a Somali candidate running on a platform to invigorate the rapidly growing Somali population around Downtown East and Riverside Plaza, ousted incumbent Robert Lilligren for the DFL endorsement.
Although Lilligren was the incumbent of a diverse ward, critics accused him of not being able to conquer the language barrier with the immigrant population. Warsame handily won Ward 6 seat with 64 percent of first-round votes.
In Ward 10, city planner and co-founder of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition Lisa Bender won the DFL endorsement in April over incumbent Meg Tuthill. Bender was able to overcome Tuthill’s traditional union support and fundraising abilities. Bender defeated Tuhill with 64 percent of first-choice votes.
“Bender won from community organizing and getting people engaged in the campaign. It was a grassroots movement at its finest,” Degerstrom said.
With a new mayor and major turnover on the City Council, Minneapolis is moving toward a new generation of politicians. Most importantly, this election proved old-fashioned political strategies don’t work in 21st-century Minneapolis. Campaign finances and large union endorsements are outdated.
If you want to run for office like it’s 1982, please continue your mail-bombarding, lawn-sign-soliciting and constant union-pleasing. If you want to run like it’s 2013, get citizens involved, put some hours into word-of-mouth campaigning and note that money alone cannot buy you into office.