Candidates meet in first mayoral debate

(From left) Mayoral candidates Mark Andrew, Betsy Hodges, Gary Schiff, Jackie Cherryhomes and Don Samuels. Credit: By Nick Halter

Five candidates hoping to be the next mayor of Minneapolis squared off in their first debate in late March, exchanging viewpoints on issues ranging from affordable housing to property taxes to the Vikings stadium.

The debate, hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and moderated by Professor Larry Jacobs, was open only to DFL candidates. The panel included current City Council members Don Samuels, Betsy Hodges and Gary Schiff; former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes and former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew.

The topic of the Minnesota Vikings stadium led off the debate, as candidates were asked if the city should follow through with its commitment to funding a portion of the $975 million facility in light of the fact that the state’s portion — electronic pulltab revenue — is falling short of projections.

Schiff provided the hardest stance against the stadium financing deal, saying he would, as mayor, fight for a new funding agreement.

“We’ll have the opportunity to elect a mayor this November who will speak up for the taxpayers of Minneapolis and make sure that Minneapolis gets a better deal, to make sure that we find a more progressive way to fund a stadium,” Schiff said.

Hodges, who like Schiff voted against the stadium deal, said as mayor she would make sure Minneapolis does not have to make up for the state’s funding shortfall.

“My fear is that somewhere down the road, they’re going to come knocking on the city’s door and say ‘we need you to contribute more to save the Vikings and save the stadium,’” Hodges said. “When I am mayor, the answer to that question will be no.”

Samuels voted for the stadium and defended his decision. 

“Minneapolis was going to get run over or get on board,” Samuels said. “So I chose the opportunity to join the mayor and the majority of the Council to make sure that we as a city would benefit to the maximum capacity for the stadium’s presence for our city.”

Both Cherryhomes and Andrew said they didn’t agree with the funding or location of the stadium, but said it would be unwise to stop a job-creating project now.

“As mayor, it would be lunacy to advocate presiding over a hole in the ground,” Andrew said. “That stadium is going to be a jobs machine.”

The debate was mostly respectful, and candidates restrained from attacks on one another. Andrew, however, did take a dig at the standing council members for presiding over large property tax increases and cuts to service.

“They have cut programs. They have raised property taxes,” Andrew said. “The city is behind on innovation. It is behind on service redesign. These problems have festered for a long time.”

Candidates were offered the opportunity to make a promise not to raise property taxes. While all candidates said they don’t favor tax hikes, Cherryhomes was the most direct.

“I am not the least bit interested in raising property taxes,” she said. “It’s not an option for me. We need to look at other things.”

Candidates offered some interesting ideas for Minneapolis.

Andrew said he would push for a Midtown Greenway-like project in North Minneapolis to help attract development and business. Andrew said he led a coalition to start the Greenway in the 1990s.

“We developed the Greenway for several million dollars, and today there are hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment on the Greenway,” he said.

Schiff proposed a comprehensive re-writing of the city’s regulatory code in the first six months of his term in order to make it easier to open a small business. Schiff touted his “Brew Beer Here” legislation that made it easier to open a brewery in Minneapolis while not requiring city subsidies.

“No subsidies, just suds,” Schiff said to laughter.

Afterward, Cam Winton, a wind energy attorney running as an independent, expressed frustration for not being allowed to debate with the DFL candidates. He also questioned why the candidates hadn’t done some of the things they were talking about years ago.

“I heard a lot talk today,” Winton said. “It all sounded very nice, but I am wondering why they didn’t do those things already in their 54 combined years of government.”

A second debate was scheduled for April 3, which is after this issue of The Journal went to press.

To see a video by The UpTake of the April 3 mayoral debate, click here