10th Ward candidate profile: Meg Tuthill

City Council Member Meg Tuthill. Credit: By Nick Halter

For the neighbors living around Uptown, the 2013 City Council election provides the most competitive race in the city, as four candidates look to defeat incumbent Meg Tuthill.

On April 27, DFL delegates will meet to decide which, if any, candidate they should endorse in this November’s election. A DFL endorsement has historically nearly guaranteed a victory in the November election since city races are not partisan and do not require primaries.

Three of Tuthill’s challengers are vying for the DFL endorsement: Lisa Bender, Ken Bradley and Kendal Killian. A fourth candidate, Nate Griggs, isn’t seeking the endorsement.

Ward 10 is an interesting area of the city, particularly right now, as apartment development is booming.

Ward 10 is made up of the neighborhoods of Lowry Hill East, Whittier, East Calhoun, CARAG and the north half of East Harriet.

Tuthill’s style is both blunt and compassionate

There’s a side of Meg Tuthill that she’s often labeled by: The hardliner neighbor who 43 years ago began ruffling the feathers of pimps, drug dealers and careless developers as she and others tried to clean up the neighborhood where her young family had just moved, buying a big home near the corner of 24th and Bryant.

The blunt side of Tuthill showed up at times during her first term on the Minneapolis City Council, like when she threatened to crack down on outdoor party bars, turned a cold shoulder to would-be Hennepin Avenue brewery owners and fought back against certain provisions in an urban farming proposal.

“I think she’s very direct,
and that can be misperceived sometimes,” said City Council President Barb Johnson, a Tuthill supporter. “I would much rather deal with someone who tells me what is on their mind and their opinion in a frank way, than sort of be mystified with a the gobbledygook and not getting a real answer. That happens way too often in this business.”

There is, however, a lesser known side of Tuthill, that of a passionate supporter of the North Side and a woman who has opened her home to exchange students, recent immigrants and those down on their luck, like a single mother and her child in desperate need of a place to stay.

She estimates that she and her husband Dennis have hosted 12 to 15 people over the years, including Julio, a Fulbright Scholar from Peru who was living in a dingy basement near 35th and Dupont about five years ago before Tuthill took him in for a year. She now calls Julio her third son.

“Some of the best decisions we’ve ever made is bringing people in to live with us — fabulous,” Tuthill said, who has over the years shied away from talking about this part of her life. “When you’ve got an old house that has four bedrooms, you either fill those bedrooms or you sell it. I’d rather fill the bedrooms. You learn a lot more.”

The Tuthills have owned three small businesses in Minneapolis — two small grocery stores until the late 1970s, when the couple sold them to open Tuthill Balloon, a 30-year business at the corner of 25th & Hennepin.

Tuthill was elected in 2009 and one of her first major initiatives was to cull the late-night noise that spilled from Uptown bars into neighborhoods, a problem she said was No. 1 with neighbors when she was door knocking on her campaign.

She gets fired up when someone tells her that her patio crackdown ordinance — which has been tabled — was anti-small business. Bars, facing the threat of the ordinance, agreed to fund extra police patrols in Uptown and inform their patrons to keep their voices low in the neighborhood. The city added taxi stands to get drunks moving out quickly after bar close.

Tuthill said she didn’t get a noise complaint last summer, and she celebrated that last fall at the Uptown Cafeteria with several local bar owners; some of them were the same ones Tuthill had battled a year before.  

“I tried the soft side,” Tuthill said. “And nobody listened. Maybe was I a little over the top in introducing an ordinance? Possibly, but I felt we couldn’t go through another summer (of noise).
I needed their help, and bless their hearts they stepped up.”

Neighbors took note.

“I think Meg did a terrific job handling the noise issue,” said CARAG resident Aaron Rubenstein. “It’s a huge, very difficult issue to crack, and I think she did a great job.”

Tuthill says she’s earned a lot of support from residents by simply running a good customer service operation from her office — helping people deal with city services like snow plowing and garbage removal — which she says in 90 percent of the job.

ECCO resident and former Minneapolis Planning Commissioner Lara Norkus-Crampton briefly ran against Tuthill in 2009, but has supported Tuthill since she dropped out of the race four years ago.

“Meg ran on some very specific things in this community and she has done exactly what she said she would do and people are well aware of that,” Norkus-Crampton. “That wasn’t always the case in this ward. We’ve had plenty of people who said they were going to do certain things, and then it just didn’t quite pan out that way.”