Minneapolis mayoral debate reveals sharp differences among DFL candidates

Minneapolis mayoral debate
The six DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor, including Gary Schiff, Jackie Cherryhomes, Don Samuels, Mark Andrew, Betsy Hodges and Jim Thomas, left to right, during a live radio broadcast with host Tom Crann Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Sharp differences are beginning to emerge among the six DFL candidates running for Minneapolis mayor.

At a forum broadcast Tuesday on MPR News, the candidates debated education, job creation and police misconduct. It was the final scheduled debate before DFL delegates vote on which of the mayoral hopefuls to endorse.

The Cities: Candidates clash over education, jobs, police

The debate was the ninth such meeting since incumbent Mayor R.T. Rybak announced he would not seek reelection. His announcement touches off a scramble for Minneapolis' top political post and the first open-seat mayoral race the city has seen in 20 years.

The candidates include three current members of the Minneapolis City Council, a former council president, a former Hennepin County Board chair and a public school teacher. And those are just the DFLers.

They're all competing this Saturday for the party's endorsement, which will be decided by approximately 1,700 delegates from across the city. While the six candidates share a party, sharper contrasts between them are beginning to be drawn as the endorsement convention nears.

Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew said he would consider using public subsidies to persuade major corporations to create jobs in impoverished parts of the city.

Mark Andrew
Former Hennepin County board chair Mark Andrew speaks during a live radio debate with the six DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"Specifically in north Minneapolis, which is a major focus of my campaign and will be a major focus of my administration," Andrew said. "We are going to be partnering with business even if it has to involve some level of support such as providing job training or some other benefit to the company."

Councilmember Gary Schiff quickly responded to say that he has a different vision for the city than Andrew.

"I don't believe it's the city's role to help big business expand. It's why I opposed the Viking's Stadium subsidy so strongly," Schiff said.

He said a better approach would be to rewrite the city's businesses regulations, which he argues would aid small businesses.

Minneapolis mayor
Minneapolis City Councilmember Gary Schiff answers a question during a live radio debate with the six DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The candidates also clashed over how the city should handle allegations of police misconduct. The approach adopted last year isn't working, former Councilmember Jackie Cherryhomes said.

"The system that is in place right now is neither transparent nor effective," Cherryhomes said. "We can see that in the number of record payouts in police lawsuit settlements that we're having. And absolutely something has to change with this."

Last year, the state Legislature forced Minneapolis to give its police department a larger role in reviewing allegations of misconduct. Under the new system, Minneapolis has two civilian investigators and two police internal affairs officers investigate such allegations. They forward recommendations to the chief of police, who has the final say on discipline.

Betsy Hodges
Minneapolis City Council member Betsy Hodges answers a question during a live radio debate with the six DFL candidates for Minneapolis mayor Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Cherryhomes said the civilian investigators need more authority and should have subpoena power. She also does not think the chief should have the tie-breaking vote.

But it's not that simple, Councilmember Betsy Hodges said in an interview following the debate.

"I could sit here and tell you that I don't want the chief to be the tie-breaker. I don't, but the law says that she is," Hodges said. "Because the law doesn't allow anybody else to do discipline on police officers who have been found to be guilty of police misconduct."

"I say, find out what works and replicate it. Find out what doesn't work and drop it."

Hodges wants to give the new system a chance to work, even though she voted against it, as did Schiff.

Councilmember Don Samuels championed it, and says early signs show that it is working. Samuels also wants to overhaul the city's education system.

"I say, find out what works and replicate it. Find out what doesn't work and drop it," Samuels said. "It's a very business-oriented approach, scientific. It's results-oriented. And hold ourselves accountable for that."

Samuels also supports the expansion of charter schools. But Jim Thomas, who teaches in the Minneapolis Public Schools, said that is the wrong approach. Thomas is concerned about trends he sees in the city's schools.

"Like class size, like teaching to tests, like whether or not we should have fair funding for schools. And charter schools should share in the special ed costs," Thomas said. "And finally, whether or not we should have Teach for America teachers teaching our children."

The mayor of Minneapolis has no authority over the school district, but each of the candidates say they want to use the office to improve the city's education system. They just have different ideas on how to do that.

Samuels also defended the police department's handling of a case involving the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect in May, and cautioned against a rush to judgment.

"This is something we have to be measured about. If we're not measured we make mistakes, and we know cases all over the country where we jump to conclusions and spend the rest of a decade trying to recover from errors in judgment," Samuels said.

Activists from the African American community have raised concerns about the death of Terrance Franklin, who was killed last month in the basement of a Minneapolis home. Two police officers were shot and wounded during the incident.

Andrew criticized the city's police department for its silence about the case and urged for a more complete explanation of how the shooting happened. He called the shooting and the subsequent investigation a "deplorable situation."

"While I recognize the need for an investigation, to have nothing at this point, and no culpability back to anybody at this point for how this happened, I think is symptomatic of a number of brutality cases that we have been sued on in the past and lost," Andrew said after the debate.

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