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Vikings stadium takes spotlight in first Minneapolis mayoral debate

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Minneapolis mayor
The five leading DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor, including Mark Andrew, Betsy Hodges, Gary Schiff, Jackie Cherryhomes and Don Samuels, left to right, debate Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Hodges, Schiff and Samuels are current city council members. Cherryhomes is a former city council president, and Andrew is a former Hennepin County Board chair.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Five leading DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor outlined their positions on taxes, public safety and stadium funding today. 

The candidates met for the first debate in the city's most hotly contested mayoral race in a generation.

The DFL candidates have an impressive set of resumes, at least in the area of public service. The field contains three current members of the Minneapolis City Council, a former council president and a former chair of Hennepin County Board. All are seeking party endorsement, and as expected, that means plenty of overlap in their positions.

On the issue of the Viking's stadium, which has divided the council in a nail-biting 7-6 vote last year, the candidates all agree Minneapolis needs to make the best of the deal going forward.

Some differences, however, emerged on that issue.

Minneapolis mayor
Moderator Larry Jacobs asks the five leading DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor a question during a debate Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Councilmember Gary Schiff, an outspoken stadium opponent, said if the state financing plan is overhauled next year, the city's share of the funding should also be renegotiated.

"This is the Minnesota Vikings, not the Minneapolis Vikings. We're the only metropolitan area in the country that is paying for three sports facilities for separate-use professional teams. We need a regional solution," Schiff said. "I will work with Mayor Coleman in St. Paul to come up with a sustainable way that has the state and the metro area chipping in to pay for these facilities."

The state share of the stadium funding is supposed to come from electronic pulltab revenues, which so far have returned far short of projections. Where Schiff sees that as an opportunity, Councilmember Betsy Hodges, also a stadium opponent, worries about how the state will respond.

"My fear is that somewhere down the road, they're going to come knocking at the city's door to say 'we're going to need you to kick in more to save the Vikings and save the stadium,'" Hodges said. "When I'm mayor, the answer to that question will be, 'no.'"

Between them, they have 54 years in government. And as the fresh set of eyes in this race, I would ask what prevented my opponents from achieving all these grand ideas in their 54 years in government."

The only mayoral candidate who voted for the stadium plan was Councilmember Don Samuels, who sees it as an important job creation initiative. Former Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and former Hennepin County Board Chair Mark Andrew both say they opposed some aspects of the plan, but ultimately support the project because of the job benefits.

All five candidates vowed keep property taxes down, although none agreed to a 'no new taxes' pledge. Andrew, who stepped down from the county board in 1999, came closest. He called for a tax cut and criticized the current Minneapolis council members for their budget decisions.

"They have cut programs. They have raised property taxes," Andrew said. "The city is behind on innovation."

All the candidates promised reform in one way or another. Hodges touted her work to reduce pension costs. Samuels said his push for measuring results has allowed the city to trim its workforce. Schiff and Cherryhomes pledged an overhaul of the city's business regulations.

All say public safety is their top priority. Cherryhomes, who narrowly lost her seat on the council 12 years ago, says the issue is personal for her.

"I would venture to guess that nobody else on this panel has been through a middle-of-the-morning, late-night burglary, huddled with their child in a closet, waiting for the police to come," Cherryhomes said.

"I can match you story for story," Samuels said. He said his life has been threatened five times. Samuels chairs the city's public safety committee and he made good on his reputation for evocative metaphors in pledging to address crime.

"I make you a promise. You can hold me accountable, because we are going to arrest this brute and strangle him. The brute of violence and injustice must be stopped," Samuels said. "Our citizens must be safe."

Wednesday's debate featured only DFL candidates for mayor, and was aimed at informing voters ahead of precinct caucuses next month. Delegates elected April 16 will decide which, if any, of the candidates are to receive the party endorsement this summer.

One candidate, Cam Winton, was not onstage at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School, but watching the debate from the audience. An attorney, Winton has been active in Republican politics, but has never run for office before and is not seeking any party endorsement. That sets him apart from the other candidates, he said.

"Between them, they have 54 years in government. And as the fresh set of eyes in this race, I would ask what prevented my opponents from achieving all these grand ideas in their 54 years in government," Winton said.

Winton will have his opportunity to ask them next week when all six candidates participate in a League of Women Voters debate.