Campaign Notes

How our political machinery works


The Minnesota Independent’s Chris Steller has offered the best coverage of our race. We’re even featured in his post-election follow-up story:

An Election Day that turned cold and rainy dumped water on IRV’s promise as a boost to voter turnout, which failed to match (let alone exceed) the 30 percent figure from the last city election in 2005.

DFL endorsee Kevin Reich squeaked by with barely 14 more votes than needed for the 50-percent-plus-one threshold for outright victory in a single-seat contest.

Hanna holds out hope that the race will be sent into a runoff by the hand count that’s required for every race because the city’s tally machines aren’t certified for IRV elections. But by randomly assigned sequence, Ward One will be last among the city’s 13 wards to be counted, putting that date with destiny off by as much as a month.

Mark Fox, an independent who finished last in the five-way Ward One race, would be the first candidate eliminated in a runoff. In Fox’s view, Reich’s bare-majority support, from “less than 12 percent of the people,” means “Minneapolis government is pretty evidently non-representative.”

“If this [election] were a council meeting, I would ask for a quorum call,” Fox wrote in a morning-after email.

In that email, I made the point that I’m not sour at all. Overall, 700 people thought I offered something valuable enough to vote for. There is no shame in my game.

I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed “retail politics”—trying to sell my ideas to voters at their doors. Yes, there was massive apathy. But the people who talked with me were genuinely interested in knowing about the candidates and making an informed vote. The way it looks to me, the endorsed victorious candidate(s) should be, if not ashamed, at least very humble as they try to advance an agenda. Less than 2,000 votes of 16,200 registered is essentially the opposite of a mandate.

Now I return to my regular life. If anyone who happens by likes my writing or the design of my handout and website, I’m looking for work. Gotta pay those rising taxes somehow.

And anyone curious about my thoughts on the spectrum of politics, economics and culture is invited to check my blog:
Negative Railroad. Posting there has been sparse for a couple of months, but I expect to get back up to speed soon enough.

Thanks again to everyone who supported me. Someday I just might run again…

Polls are Closed

Thank you to everyone who helped or offered a kind word. You have no idea how much all of it mattered.

From all the reports I’ve seen, turnout was unusually low, even for a local election. I like to think that means those who took the time to vote were informed and deliberative. And I like to think that helps my chances.

We’re not expecting results too quickly. If you want to follow the progress as votes are counted, check the Minnesota Secretary of State website. Meanwhile, I’m going to get some rest.

KFAI Radio Interview

On October 19th, KFAI radio (90.3 FM) aired a news story on the First Ward Council race. Four of the five competitors were interviewed, and those interviews were edited into individual segments. Here's mine:

Left Out

One of my campaign principles is advocacy for the unengaged. In my experience, our political system ignores too many people. With my history as a non-party community activist, I know what it feels like to be an outsider. I’m running to help bring the outside in.

Amusingly, as I was typing my previous post about last night’s candidate forum, I received a call from the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. They wanted to know if I was voting next week. I said yes.

Then the caller asked which candidate I was voting for and listed four of the five names on the ballot. She didn’t mention me.

I told the caller that she didn’t list the candidate I was voting for. She just continued with her script, making sure I knew who the Federation had endorsed.

I suppose I should be mad. But I’m not. The Federation has sent me enough postcards to wallpaper a bedroom, too. I see it all as a symptom of the dysfunction in our city. I don’t think we get good results when money and connections rule politics. Instead of being angry, I’m out knocking on doors trying to make the system work better.

Our Only Forum

Despite the lack of an incumbent and a slate of candidates all making their first run for public office, First Ward voters were offered only one opportunity to hear from those seeking to represent them. It happened last night, and the Minnesota Independent was there to report:

The candidates spent much of the forum seconding each other’s opinions, leaving Hanna and Reich to trade the evening’s sharpest jabs.

How Much Does it Cost?

Yard signs and newspaper ads aren’t cheap. I’ve seen what my competitors are doing, and I am impressed by their ability to spend money. Dollars are not votes, but every candidate wishes they had more of both.

I’m no different in regard to that desire. But I knew when I started I would have to make a campaign work on a shoestring. I could afford only a handful of yard signs. My literature is one-color, and we have been delivering it all by hand (Thanks, volunteers!). But still, I am confident that my ideas and our hard work can overcome my lack of fundraising connections.

With that said, what’s the bottom line?

A Little Bit of Human Interest

Some candidates make their personal lives part of their campaign. Families and the values that we associate with them are markers of character. As our culture grows, we’re finding the value in non-traditional families, too.

I accept that such things are important to many voters. But I think candidates should be judged on their ideas and their public accomplishments much more than their personal stories. Maybe I hold that view because my family structure is still outside the ever-widening mainstream.

Riverside Ribbon Cutting

Yesterday afternoon I attended the opening ceremony for the Riverside Powerplant’s conversion from coal to natural gas. It was awesome to hear the President of the Marshall Terrace neighborhood association commend Xcel for their cooperation and partnership. Too often, neighborhood groups face big corporations as enemies. The Riverside Plant is proof that this attitude is not necessary. Businesses and even the heaviest of industry can be partners and neighbors with residents. This is an essential point to keep in mind as we work to improve Central Avenue. Certainly, the difficulties will be smaller in Shoreham Yards.

I don’t live in Marshall Terrace, so I did not understand the costs the plant imposed on the neighborhood. When I first heard about the conversion, it seemed silly. The USA has so much coal, and we keep hearing about dwindling supplies of oil and gas. Minneapolis needs electric power, and it appeared to make more sense to generate that power with a more reliable and cheaper fuel. I felt for the neighbors, but whatever the costs, they had been part of the bargain all property owners assumed when buying next to a coal powerplant.

I have learned. Natural gas is relatively abundant and can be delivered at reasonable cost. The coal soot problem was a genuine health issue, not just an inconvenience. And the conversion included a small up-rating of the plant’s capacity, so we get more electricity. It’s a triple-win situation.

We’re Having a Friendraiser

My campaign—and my life—has been focused on what people can do instead of what people can buy. Keeping with that theme, my supporters are holding a “friendraiser”:

Stop by the Schulte house to show support for Mark. It’s a "friendraiser" because we're hoping you can help pass out flyers on your block. Of course, the usual form of donation will be greatly appreciated, too.

You're welcome to bring friends or skeptics. Meet Mark and tell him what you think City Hall should do differently.

It’s next Wednesday, October 14th, 5:30–7pm, at 2807 Polk Street NE.

Everyone is invited. Even my competitors. I am confident that anyone who takes the time to learn about my ideas and my record will recognize I am the First Choice for the First Ward.

Business Day at City Hall

Last Friday, September 29th, was Business Day at City Hall. This was a gathering organized by the City of Lakes Chamber of Commerce aimed at developing an open and constructive dialog between the business community and City officials. I was the only candidate from my Ward—and perhaps the only non-incumbent City Council candidate—who thought hearing from business interests was important.

It was a worthwhile event. The day began with a short talk by Mayor Rybak. R.T. listed many benefits the city has offered to businesses in recent years. But he never mentioned the costs. And many of the things Rybak highlighted—like commute rail—benefit suburbanites much more than Minneapolis residents. We make it as easy as possible for outlanders to come work in tall buildings owned by other outlanders. It seemed like R.T. saw Minneapolis as a destination, not a home.

After the Mayor, we heard a report about taxes from the Chamber. Businesses pay 33% of all property taxes collected by the City, while homeowners pay 44%. Minneapolis taxes are the highest in the Metro area. In addition, business fees have risen over 11% in the last four years. The Chamber did credit City Hall for keeping spending down.

My Thoughts on Political Endorsements

Every political candidate has the opportunity to seek endorsements from parties, action committees and interest groups. You don’t have to find them; they find you. There are many advantages to winning organizational endorsements. Recognition, volunteer and technical support, and most of all, money.

I decided I would seek no organizational endorsements. Even from groups who are promoting issues close to my heart. It puts me at a disadvantage as a campaigner. I have to operate on a tiny budget, and learn a lot things that “connected” people already know.

But I believe it will make me a better Council Member. I will not owe any special interest any special consideration. I want everyone to feel they have access to their representative. I will not be “bought out” or “paid off”. I am in nobody’s pocket. Any person or group who has a concern should be heard, with all as equals.

National Poll Reflects First Ward Attitudes

I am campaigning on the idea that City Hall is too big, trying to do too much, and suffocating our city with taxes and regulations. Most of the folks I’ve met agree. A recent Gallup poll shows the whole country wants government to get back to basics:

League of Women Voters 2009 Voter Guide

The League of Women Voters offered all candidates the opportunity to answer a few questions for an online Voter Guide. There’s no direct access to the First Ward races, but it’s pretty easy to find them. Go here and enter your ZIP code to get started.

To save you a few clicks, here’s what I had to say:

1.  Relevant Experience:

Two terms as Audubon Neighborhood President, and two terms as Treasurer. Ten years on our neighborhood Board. Currently Land Use Committee Chair. Participant in many community planning initiatives. Led survey of Latino housing needs. Served on the City’s Community Engagement Task Force. Founding volunteer of Northeast Citizen Patrol.

2.  Education:

B.S. in Economics from the U of M. Graduate of De La Salle High School. Attended Kenny for elementary and Anthony for junior high. Neighborhood organizer and financial training through NRP. Completed coursework to become a life coach. As an entrepreneur, I have learned many things they don’t teach in schools.

5.  What issues do you think the city will be facing in the next 4 years?

Our city is facing a huge loss of revenue. City Hall is on an unsustainable fiscal path. The City Council cannot keep spending as it has without imposing more tax hikes that will drive more people out their homes and businesses. Another wave of home foreclosures looms.

Zoning Business Out

Today I attended a networking event held by the Northeast Chamber of Commerce. I was the only candidate there. My goals were to hear the concerns of our business community and to build awareness of my campaign.

Their top concern was taxes. Our businesses have trouble growing and surviving when City Hall takes so much from both them and their customers.

This problem was documented in a recent StarTribune story:

When Minneapolis hardware store owner Jim Welna got the chance to buy a building in the next block on Franklin Avenue and quadruple his floor space, he sat down to run the numbers.

They didn't add up -- in large part because of the property tax he'd have to pay. He figured that he would have to budget nearly $140 from each day's proceeds just to pay that $50,000 annual bill.

"I couldn't see a business model that would allow me to factor those taxes in and keep prices affordable," said Welna, who is chairman of the Seward Civic and Commerce Association.

Another concern, perhaps not appreciated by a candidate without my community development experience, was zoning. City Hall’s current zoning policy makes it expensive for a successful business to grow in place. Many times zoning allows no growth at all.

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