Mayoral hopefuls criticized after donors revealed

Shira Kantor

After last week’s disclosure of campaign contribution records, some donations the top mayoral candidates accepted have incited criticism for possible conflicts of interest.

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton raised $232,660 and spent $209,981 on her campaign, according to contribution records. Among her donors were at least 14 Target Corporation employees, as well as at least 11 employees of Ryan Construction, the contractors responsible for building the downtown Target store.

The mayor recently supported a controversial $62 million tax subsidy for the project.

Randy Schubring, a spokesman for the mayor, said the donations have nothing to do with the Target project.

“I don’t think that the mayor feels, from her standpoint, because (Target and Ryan employees) have contributed time or money to her campaign, that therefore she has to do everything that they want to do,” Schubring said.

Sayles Belton also received donations from employees of Ellerbe Becket and RSP Architects Ltd., two of the finalists in the Central Library’s search for a designer. Sayles Belton heads the New Central Library Implementation Committee and will vote on the library’s architect.

In a Minnesota Public Radio- sponsored debate last week, business and community activist and mayoral hopeful R.T. Rybak challenged Sayles Belton’s loyalties, saying he didn’t think she could walk into City Hall without her hands tied.

“The subsidy for the Target project was obscene,” he said later. “But it’s not as obscene as her then turning around and taking $10,000 from people at the corporation or involved with that development company.”

Rybak raised $91,131 and has spent $51,935 campaigning. He said he has not taken contributions from political action committees or from “people with business before the city.”

According to contribution records, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein – also a mayoral candidate, received $300 from Basim Sabri, the local businessman recently indicted on bribery charges in the federal extortion investigation into City Hall.

The donation came in late June, before the extortion scandal broke, and Stenglein returned the contribution a week later. He said he did so only because it was a corporate check rather than a personal check. Candidates cannot accept corporate contributions.

Stenglein, who raised $120,527 and spent $88,117 on his campaign, also received donations from John D. Isaacs and several of Isaacs’ family members, who own American Iron & Supply Co. The company in 1989 proposed building a controversial metal shredder – commonly known as the Kondirator, after the German model – on the Mississippi River.

AIS was embroiled in a legal battle with the city beginning in 1991 when it contested the City Council’s efforts to delay the Kondirator’s construction, despite approval for the project in 1990.

Many residents and officials have recoiled from the idea of putting a 50-foot-high metal shredder on the river, fearing the high level of noise and air pollution the Kondirator is expected to bring.

The lawsuit ended in 2000, when the city agreed to pay $8.75 million to settle with AIS.

Both Stenglein and members of the Isaacs family said the contributions have no relationship to the proposed Kondirator.

Another mayoral candidate, City Council Member Lisa McDonald, accepted two $200 contributions from a lobbyist for the Kondirator, attorney Walter Rockenstein, according to her campaign contribution report.

McDonald sits on the City Planning Commission, which will discuss the site plan review for the Kondirator in a meeting today. The plan is expected to be approved.

McDonald raised a total of $266,171 for her campaign and spent $242,078.

McDonald could not be reached for comment.

Third Ward Council Member Joe Biernat, who represents the area where the Kondirator would be built, said he thinks McDonald “was poorly advised in accepting the money.”

“I would hope if she was aware of the contribution she probably would return it on the grounds that the contributor is about to do business with the City Council,” Biernat said.

Rybak noted that McDonald was the deciding vote on the resolution to settle with AIS.

“I’m not saying anyone is corrupt,” Rybak said. “I’m saying the system is corrupting.”


Shira Kantor encourages comments at [email protected]