For Minneapolis voters, cost of running for mayor, beer and wine sales on ballot

YouTube video from Jeff Wagner's campaign
He wants to be mayor: A YouTube video from Jeff Wagner's campaign last year.

Who gets to run for mayor of Minneapolis?

Voters there will help decide that question on Election Day when they tackle a proposed change to the city's charter raising the filing fee for candidates.

Voters will also be asked how much beer and wine neighborhood restaurants can sell.

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"I won't say they were vanity candidates or bad faith candidates, because I'm sure they all believed in what they were talking about."

It costs just $20 to put your name on the ballot for city races. The proposed charter amendment would raise that fee to $500 for mayoral candidates.

Other offices would see smaller increases, although candidates could avoid paying the fee altogether by collecting at least 500 signatures.

The change is designed to keep candidates like Jeff Wagner off the ballot. His quixotic run for mayor last year was built around a series of web videos showing him in varying states of undress. The videos were a hit. Blogs all over the country linked to them. But Wagner ended up with fewer than 200 votes.

"I won't say they were vanity candidates or bad faith candidates, because I'm sure they all believed in what they were talking about," said Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg about many of the 35 candidates who ran for mayor last year had no chance of winning. "They were not credible."

Most of the candidates only ran because it was so cheap, and the lengthy ballot confused voters, Clegg said.

Most city leaders support raising the fee, but not Council Member Blong Yang. He says the proposal is anti-democratic and doesn't address the underlying problem.

"There was a circus in 2013 with the mayoral ballot. But if you look at what was to blame, I don't think you can blame filing fees," he said. "I think what you should be blaming is ranked choice voting."

The city implemented ranked choice voting in 2009. The new system eliminated the primary elections that used to winnow down voters' choices before the general election. Now, all candidates appear on the general election ballot, and voters can indicate a first choice, a second choice and a third choice.

Ranked choice voting advocate Jeanne Massey acknowledges the long list of candidates last year didn't help her cause.

"It in the end didn't create a big problem, but it created a lot of discussion it didn't need to create. Among the media, among voters, there were a lot of eyes rolling," she said.

That's one reason Massey's organization, FairVote Minnesota, is urging Minneapolis residents to vote yes on question one and raise the filing fee.

Alcohol sales

Steven Brown
Tilia restaurant owner Steve Brown.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

The other big charter question before Minneapolis voters is this: How much beer and wine can restaurants sell?

Currently, the so-called 70/30 rule requires that several dozen city restaurants make at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales, with no more than 30 percent coming from beer and wine. Supporters of the status quo say it's needed to make sure restaurants don't turn into rowdy bars in residential areas.

Tilia, in the Linden Hills neighborhood, is one of the restaurants bound by the 30/70 rule. Owner Steven Brown says with the popularity of more expensive craft beer, it's hard to meet the requirement.

"If you came in and ordered a beer for $6, and a sandwich for $9 or $10, you are immediately out of compliance in this idea of the 70/30 rule," he said.

City staff also say many businesses have run afoul of the rule. Earlier this year, the City Council freed hundreds of restaurants from liquor ratios set forth in city ordinance. But the 70/30 restaurants are governed by the city charter. Only the voters can change that rule.

(The map below shows the location of Minneapolis restaurants bound by the city's 30/70 rule.)

Brown argues there's no downside to scrapping the the 30/70 rule.

"I don't think anybody's going to open a raucous roadhouse tavern in Linden Hills next week after the election and the thing passes. It's just not going to happen that way," he said.

City officials say new ordinances passed earlier this year will also prevent the restaurants from effectively turning into bars. But Marlene Parks, who lives in the Fulton neighborhood, isn't convinced.

"I'm not a teetotaler. I think if I was in my 30s, I'd probably be whoop whoop whoop about all this stuff, and I'm not. These are family neighborhoods. It could change everything for them — a lot — traffic-wise, noise-wise, and I think Minneapolis is opening up a can of worms that I don't think they should be opening up," Parks said.

State law sets a higher bar for charter changes like this one, because it deals with alcohol. To pass, it needs a 55 percent majority. The filing fee amendment needs 51 percent support.

If recent history is a guide, both will likely succeed. Minneapolis voters have rejected a proposed charter amendment just once in the past 20 years.