DFL, independents debate for mayor

In south Mpls., crowded mayoral field talk visions for city.

Mayoral candidate Gary Schiff responds to questions during a forum Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Solomons Porch church in Minneapolis. Voters will be able to rank the seven declared mayoral candidates as first-, second-, and third-choices, allowing the candidates in a large pool to earn enough votes to surpass the 50 percent necessary.

Emily Dunker

Mayoral candidate Gary Schiff responds to questions during a forum Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis. Voters will be able to rank the seven declared mayoral candidates as first-, second-, and third-choices, allowing the candidates in a large pool to earn enough votes to surpass the 50 percent necessary.

Brian Arola

Lounging on old sofas in a church in south Minneapolis on Wednesday, the seven declared candidates for mayor outlined their visions for the city.

Gathered in Solomon’s Porch church, the evening was labeled a “forum” by the League of Women Voters Minneapolis. The candidates discussed their platforms on city issues ranging from garbage burning to transportation in what was a departure from last week’s more formal debate setting.

City Councilman Don Samuels joked it was the “plushest cage match” he’d ever seen.

The five DFL candidates were joined by independents Cam Winton and Jim Thomas, who weren’t invited last week to debate with the DFLers.

Winton, who isn’t seeking any party’s endorsement, tried to set himself apart by proudly referencing his lack of political experience.

“I’m running for mayor to build on all that’s good about [the city], while bringing a fresh set of eyes” he said.

Thomas is relatively new to the race. The special education teacher regularly admitted that when he didn’t know the answer to certain questions, but he also emphasized that education is the focus of his campaign.

Transportation

The candidates’ views on transportation made for, perhaps, the most distinct answers.

City councilmembers Don Samuels, Gary Schiff and Betsy Hodges all said they supported increasing transportation initiative across the city as a way to unify Minneapolis.

“We need a transit system that is affordable, accessible and gets you where you need to go,” Schiff said.

Mark Andrew, former chairman of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, said he helped approve the Hiawatha Line even though it was unpopular at the time. Now, he said, people understand how important decisions like that were.

“Today we realize what a critical transit system is to our quality of life, to our ability to grow jobs, to our ability to get around,” he said.

Former City Council president Jackie Cherryhomes said she hopes to expand bicycle routes.

The idea of bringing street cars back to the city has gained popularity recently, and several candidates mentioned them Wednesday.

Winton disagreed that street cars are a necessary investment, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“I do not think that street cars are an important part of our transit culture,” he said. “Bus rapid transit is not quite as good as street cars in certain respects, but it’s certainly cheaper.”

Thomas said he hopes to build a “car-less” Minneapolis.

Lightning round

One area the candidates all agreed on was ranked-choice voting, or allowing voters to choose their first, second and third choices for mayor.

All seven said they thought the system ensured more dialogue between candidates and voters.

The DFL candidates varied in their responses on whether they’ll continue to run if they don’t receive the party endorsement in two weeks.

Andrew, Cherryhomes and Hodges said they have a wait-and-see approach to the endorsement.

Samuels said if he makes a good showing at the party caucus, he’d stay in the race even if he doesn’t get the endorsement, while Schiff said he’d abide by the party endorsement.

Support

In response to a question from the audience, the candidates ran through their endorsements thus far.

Hodges touted the support she’s gained from the African-American and Latino caucuses.

Cherryhomes said she was proud to secure an endorsement from former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who preceded Mayor R.T. Rybak and was in attendance.

Schiff said he’s secured the only union endorsement so far — from the firefighter’s union — as well as the support of 150 small-business owners.

Andrew said members of the park board and state Rep. Phyllis Kahn have backed him.

Samuels said former police chief Tim Dolan supports him and is a member of his campaign team.

Winton said, as an independent, he’s received support across the spectrum from all over the city.

And Thomas said he’s got the support of his neighbor and joked that he hopes to win the support of his wife.