When Lisa Bender decided to run for the Ward 10 City Council seat, she first broke the news to a close circle of family and friends. Then Bender placed a call to the incumbent, Meg Tuthill.
Tuthill, who lives just a few blocks from Bender in the Wedge, said she made a counter-proposal: Wait a couple of years, I’ll mentor you in the ways of City Hall and you can run in 2017.
Bender is not waiting. She won the DFL endorsement in April and argues the youthful, fast-developing Uptown area deserves a council member with the vision to lead at City Hall.
“We’re really missing an opportunity by not having a council member who is an active policy-maker,” Bender said. “Meg has only introduced one ordinance the whole time in office, and that’s a loss for the city because we’re facing issues here that are being faced citywide.”
Tuthill says she’s gone to bat for her neighbors on livability issues and meanwhile played the role of a new council member: “You need to shut up, listen, learn and ask questions, and that’s exactly what I did my first term.”
No Ward 10 council member has served consecutive terms since Lisa McDonald in the ’90s. Tuthill argues she offers both consistency and experience — not just four years in office, but decades as a neighborhood activist.
On that last point — her experience — Tuthill’s message for Bender was delivered in the direct, plain-spoken manner she is known for: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Tuthill, 64, is a former small business owner who for three decades ran Tuthill’s Balloon Emporium at 25th & Hennepin with her husband, Dennis. The couple has lived in the Wedge more then 40 years, and Tuthill helped found its neighborhood association in 1973.
Bender, 35, is a former San Francisco city planner who returned to the Twin Cities in 2009 to work as coordinator of Safe Routes to School, a state program that funds biking and walking projects. She is a founder of the non-profit Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and an appointee to the city Bicycle Advisory Committee.
They aren’t the only two candidates on the Ward 10 ballot, but most consider them the only two who matter. By comparison, Independence Party candidate Nate Griggs and Scott Hargarten, running under the Pirate Party banner, have barely campaigned.
Lawn signs for the leading candidates sprouted like dandelions in the Wedge this fall, but as they campaigned door-to-door both candidates encountered voters were just tuning into the race. The median age in Ward 10 at the time of the 2010 Census was just 30 years old, the youngest of any Southwest ward, and the neighborhoods around Uptown are packed with young renters.
When Tuthill knocked on the door of Jon Carpentier, 23, a new arrival in the Wedge, he answered wearing a yellow Gustavus Adolphus College T-shirt. The councilwoman asked what brought Carpentier to the neighborhood and he replied, “Honestly? The bar scene.”
Sticks and carrots
Tuthill heard a lot of griping about noisy Uptown bars and their intoxicated patrons when she campaigned in 2009, and just months into her first term she quietly met with bar and restaurant owners to urge changes. When neighbors continued to call her with complaints, she proposed an ordinance to set seating and volume limits for bar and restaurant patios citywide.
“I did the stick,” Tuthill said. “I’d already done the carrot. I got nowhere.”
Restaurateurs who thrive on revenue from summer patios responded angrily at a public hearing. Tuthill tabled the ordinance.
Uptown restaurant owners eventually set patio decibel limits on their own and chipped-in for extra police patrols. The opening of a new public parking ramp and the addition of several taxi stands meant fewer patrons wandering through neighborhoods after bar close.
Tuthill was pleased with the result, but Bender said her tactics were too hard on business owners like Jenna and Alex Victoria. The owners of Lake Street’s Amore Victoria sought city permits for a rooftop patio while the ordinance debate was still raging.
“She openly would not support us and she wouldn’t even meet with us on our idea,” Jenna Victoria said.
“That’s not true,” responded Tuthill, who said she reacted cautiously to the proposal when neighbors came to her with concerns. Still, the Victorias, Tuthill’s neighbors for a decade, are supporting Bender.
Developer Stuart Ackerberg said those who view Tuthill as inflexible are wrong.
Both recalled the councilwoman telling Ackerberg his MoZaic mixed-use project in Uptown would be built “over [her] dead body.” Its 13-story height was a sticking point for neighbors.
When it was completed — at 10 stories — Tuthill fought through an illness to speak at the opening ceremony. Ackerberg described Tuthill as “a good woman who works hard and who is able to fight the fights that are necessary, and yet [is] willing to not let that get in the way of relationships.”
Portraying herself as the more forward-looking candidate, Bender argues her background in planning will be an asset for a growing city.
“It’s my feeling that neighborhoods and cities change, and as a City Council member my goal is to help get the most out of that change for my community,” she said.
Bender said Ward 10 transportation options need to keep pace with residential growth, and she would push for continued investment in transit and new bike lanes. Tuthill sounds a similar note with voters, saying she raised “a biking family.”
Both regard streetcars cautiously. Tuthill said she needs more information to weigh the cost against the potential to spur development along future lines. Bender said the proposed Nicollet-Central line would be “an asset to our community,” but also said she supports “taking a serious look” at cheaper enhanced bus technology.
If elected, Bender would apply her planning expertise to city zoning policy. Inconsistency between zoning and neighborhood plans often means uncertainty for developers and frustration for neighbors, she said.
Her case-in-point was the Trader Joe’s market proposed for the 2700 block of Lyndale Avenue, a project planned for a major commercial corridor that didn’t advance when it failed in June 2012 to win a zoning upgrade. Tuthill opposed the zoning change, but Bender said neighborhood concerns really came down to design: a single-story building with a surface parking lot replacing older, two-story mixed-use buildings.
“I think at least we could have had a more collaborative conversation between the development team and the neighborhood,” Bender said. “I can’t promise that I could have solved that problem, but I think that I could have had more success in trying to solve that problem.”