DFLers face off in 5th district debate

Keith Ellison
Keith Ellison, the DFL-endorsed candidate for the 5th Congressional District race.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

State Rep. Keith Ellison, former State Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, former DFL Party chair Mike Erlandson and Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow appeared at an event hosted by KFAI Radio and Insight News.

All of the candidates say they oppose the war in Iraq, want to raise the nation's minimum wage and want to repeal President Bush's tax cuts benefitting upper-income Americans.

Mike Erlandson
Mike Erlandson is one of several DFL candidates vying for the 5th Congressional District seat. He is a former state party chairman, and chief of staff to Rep. Martin Sabo, whose retirement is causing a scramble for the office.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Without major policy differences among the candidates on many of the top national issues, the race for the DFL nomination seems to focus more on the different styles and voting blocs in Minnesota's 5th. The district includes Minneapolis and several suburbs.

Keith Ellison, the DFL-endorsed candidate, touted his four-year career in the Legislature. Ellison appeared to woo the anti-war, labor and environmentalist voting blocs in the district.

He says he protested the war in Iraq before it started, wants to remove restrictions on union organizing, and used his legislative seat to push measures to clean up mercury pollution.

Ellison likened his political approach to two lions of the DFL party, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and Congressman Martin Sabo, whose retirement opened up the field for this seat.

Ember Reichgott Junge
DFLer Ember Reichgott Junge, a former state legislator, is running for the 5th Congressional District seat in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"I combine the passion of a Wellstone together with the practical ability of a Martin Sabo," Ellison said.

While Ellison says he has Sabo's practical ability, former DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson has Sabo's endorsement. Erlandson touted his 19 years of experience working in Sabo's Washington offices.

Erlandson, who was Sabo's chief of staff before he entered the race, says he understands the district better than anyone else.

"It is not an outfront job, you haven't seen my pounding the pavement or you haven't seen me sticking shovels in the ground. What I've been doing is working behind the scenes to get the job done for my entire adult life for the 5th Congressional District in Minnesota," Erlandson said.

While Erlandson says he's ready to hit the ground running in Washington, Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow is portraying himself as a public safety candidate. Ostrow has the endorsement of the Minneapolis Fire Fighters union, and emphasized his career as a prosecutor.

Ostrow has also been the most vocal critic of Keith Ellison. Ellison had his driver's license suspended for not paying parking tickets, and was fined by the Campaign Finance Board for not filing the proper paperwork as a state lawmaker.

Paul Ostrow
Minneapolis city councilmember Paul Ostrow is one of several DFLers running for the 5th Congressional District seat.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Ellison has publicly apologized for both incidents. But Ostrow says candidates for Congress need to be held to the highest standard.

"Many of these questions are in published news reports. They are not rumors or innuendos. They have been tough but they have been fair," Ostrow said. "I have said, and I will continue to say, that following the rule of law is important. And if you're going to Washington, you need to show that you will follow the rule of law."

Former state Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge said she's the candidate who has the most experience in elective office. She appeared to seek the support of female voters by saying she's the only pro-choice female DFLer in the race, and wants more funding for child care assistance. Reichgott Junge criticized President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress for cutting child care assistance and funding for after-school programs.

"Do you know the major cuts that are going on in child care? Do you know what this administration is doing? They are forgetting you have to take care of your children," Reichgott Junge said. "How can single parents work if you don't have money for child care?"

This is the first of several debates among Ellison, Reichgott Junge, Ostrow and Erlandson. The four will meet at a forum hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council Tuesday night.

There are three other DFLers running in the Sept. 12 primary -- Andrew Vincent Favorite, Gregg Iverson and Patrick Wiles.

Since Minnesota's 5th is considered a DFL stronghold, the winner of the September primary will be considered the frontrunner heading into the November election.

Independence Party member Tammy Lee, Republican Alan Fine and Green Party candidate Jay Pond are also on the November ballot.