Minneapolis mayoral candidate bio: Mark Andrew

Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew. (MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson)

First in a series.

Fourteen years after Mark Andrew resigned from the Hennepin County Board, he's making a bid to return to elected office.

Though the former State DFL Party Chair was once set on a state-level position if he returned to elected office, he's now running one of the most robust campaigns for mayor. A Star Tribune poll from last month showed him among the race's top four candidates, and he was in second place in fundraising. As of the latest disclosure deadline on Sept. 3, Andrew's campaign had raised more than $270,000, putting him about $14,000 behind Dan Cohen, who’s funding his campaign mostly out of his own pocket.

Andrew was first elected to the county board in 1982, when he ousted DFL incumbent Nancy Olkon.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

"I think there was a sense that the incumbent was sort of jockeying back and forth between the conservative mindset and the more progressive mindset, and I think the voters were confused and therefore wanted a change," Andrew told MPR News at the time.

Andrew, by contrast, was reliably liberal. During his 16 years as county commissioner, Andrew championed an series of progressive causes. He supported needle exchanges for drug addicts, abortion training at Hennepin County Medical Center and health benefits for the domestic partners of county employees.

But Andrew tempered that liberal streak when he became DFL Party chair in 1995.

The party had received a drubbing in the previous year’s election. Democrats had lost races for governor and U.S. Senate. They also came close to losing their majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Andrew’s strategy was to de-emphasize social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and to keep the focus on the economy – something Andrew believed all Democrats could agree on.

“Instead of allowing our differences to be highlighted, we are highlighting our commonalities,” Andrew said at the time.

The strategy succeeded in 1996, helped, no doubt, by President Bill Clinton’s ample coattails. The DFL re-elected U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and gained ground in both houses of the Legislature.

Andrew stepped down as party chair the following year and publicly flirted with a run for governor. But he ultimately decided not to run, and in 1999, he also relinquished his seat on the county board.

Andrew resigned mid-way through his fifth term, triggering a special election that cost the county more than $50,000.

“When I saw my energy and enthusiasm for that particular job fading, I made the decision to just stop doing it,” Andrew said. “I probably could have hung in for a couple of years and collected paychecks. That didn’t feel right to me.”

Andrew quickly moved into a public relations job, where his clients included the Minnesota Twins. After the team secured public funding for Target Field, Andrew persuaded its owners to build the ballpark in an environmentally friendly way.

“That was the day GreenMark was born," said Andrew.

GreenMark is the small marketing firm Andrew founded in 2005. Its specialty is using professional sports stadiums to showcase green technology. When you hear that Pentair is the “official sustainable water provider to the Minnesota Twins,” you’re hearing GreenMark’s work.

At its peak the company had six employees, but it now relies exclusively on contractors, and with Andrew campaigning full time, there’s not a lot of work for them these days.

If he's elected mayor, Andrew plans to continue his focus on the environment. He promises to make Minneapolis the “greenest city in North America,” complete with solar panels on the roof of every public building.

Andrew's opponents accuse him of shifting positions on some other issues, depending on his audience..

"If you like something you've heard him say here, he probably said exactly the opposite to the labor forum a month ago, and exactly the opposite to the environmental forum the month before that," independent candidate Cam Winton said during a debate last month at the Minneapolis Club.

Although the mayor has no power over schools in Minneapolis, education has been a major point of discussion in the race. At times Andrew has leveled harsh criticism at Teach for America, which trains graduates from elite colleges to teach at inner city schools.

"I don't like the idea of people coming into our state and substituting the work of school teachers," he told a crowd that included members of the Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

But at a debate sponsored by Teach for America, Andrew showered the organization with praise.

"I know kids who are Teach for America teachers. They are truly among the best and the brightest among us. That is not something we want to reject. It is something we want to nurture," he said.

In an interview, Andrew maintained the two quotations were consistent with one another.

“Both statements were fair. Both statements were accurate,” he said.

Cody Nelson contributed to this report.