Differences emerged among the six DFL candidates for mayor of Minneapolis Tuesday on issues including education, job creation and police misconduct. MPR News hosted the final scheduled debate before DFL delegates vote this weekend on which of them to endorse.
Council Member Gary Schiff pledged not to use city money to subsidize large downtown businesses, while former Member Jackie Cherryhomes and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew argued such spending can be a good investment.
Council Member Don Samuels defended the city's new system for reviewing charges of police misconduct. Andrew and Cherryhomes argued the new system puts too much power in the hands of the police chief. In an interview following the debate, Council Member Betsy Hodges said she agreed with the criticism but she noted state law gives the chief the sole authority to discipline police officers.
Teacher Jim Thomas is using his campaign to raise awareness of the problems facing Minneapolis Public Schools. Thomas argues large class sizes, charter schools and the Teach For America program are weakening the education system. Samuels, a supporter of charter schools, disagreed. Even though the mayor of Minneapolis has no power over the school board, all the candidates say they'd use the office to improve educational outcomes for poor and minority students.
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The six DFL candidates for mayor of Minneapolis meet today for their final scheduled debate before party delegates vote on which of them to endorse. The event, moderated by Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Crann, will broadcast live at noon on MPR News stations statewide. The audio will also be available online.
The candidates include three current members of the Minneapolis City Council, a former council member, a former Hennepin County commissioner and a public school teacher.
They are all vying for the party nod to succeed Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is stepping down at the end of this year after three terms in office. It’s the first time in 20 years Minneapolis has seen a mayor’s race with no incumbent.
The DFL Party has a virtual lock on Minneapolis politics. Twelve of the 13 seats on the city council belong to DFLers; the other belongs to Green Party member. The city’s entire legislative delegation hails from the DFL, and 80 percent of city voters supported Democrat Barack Obama in last year’s presidential election.
In spite of that, the DFL has a history of failing to endorse Minneapolis mayoral candidates. Even Rybak, who won each of his three races in a landslide, only won the party’s support for his final run in 2009.
The Minneapolis DFL will try to choose this year’s mayoral standard-bearer at its convention on Saturday. Winning endorsement requires a 60-percent super majority. Up to 1,780 delegates will take at least five votes on the endorsement. Candidates with less than 10 percent of the vote will be eliminated after the first round. Additional candidates will be dropped in subsequent rounds until only two remain.
If the party is able to make an endorsement, the winning candidate will immediately look like the front-runner in the race. An endorsed candidate would also be able to draw on the party’s organization and base of volunteers. But an endorsement won’t end the race.
Most candidates have vowed to continue their campaigns regardless of what happens at the convention. Only council member Gary Schiff and former Hennepin County Board Chair Mark Andrew have promised to drop out of the race if someone else wins endorsement.
Schiff and Andrew will both participate in Minnesota Public Radio’s debate. Council Members Betsy Hodges and Don Samuels have also confirmed, as have former council President Jackie Cherryhomes and special education teacher Jim Thomas. The Minneapolis DFL website also lists a candidate named Grant Haas, but he does not appear to be waging an active campaign.
In their previous debates, the candidates largely avoided attacking each other, but divisions emerged on several issues. They clashed over how the city should deal with allegations of police brutality, whether Hennepin County should be allowed to burn more garbage at a power plant on the edge of downtown, and whether the new Viking’s stadium is a boon or a boondoggle.
The Minneapolis Downtown Council had been planning to hold a debate on Wednesday, but it postponed that event, making MPR’s forum the final one before the convention.