Mayoral candidates pose questions to one another at debate

In a twist on the typical debate format, Minneapolis mayoral candidates got a chance to pose questions to one another at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Minneapolis at the Central Library on Wednesday.

The questions came at the end of the hour-long forum and elicited some interesting, heated and funny responses from the candidates. Mayoral candidates Betsy Hodges and Mark Andrew, two DFLers that have been big rivals throughout the campaign season, also got a chance to exchange questions.

Here’s a recap of the questions and candidates’ responses: 

Former City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes asked Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine the following: “What is the one skill that differentiates you and makes you most capable of being mayor?”

Fine’s response: “The theme of my campaign has always been that I’ve been a steward of the park system. You know there are differences between the way [the city and Park Board] operate, but we have the same inflationary pressures including in health insurance and a lot of our operating expenses. So I think I bring that great item in terms of the efficiencies we’ve done, as well as the great services and understanding what the public wants. I can bring that to city government.”

City Council Member Hodges got a chance to ask Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner, about an infamous quote on the campaign trail that came during a labor forum in August. 

“So Mark, you once said I have the ‘disease of a small vision’ for supporting a private plan to fund a 1,000-room hotel around the Convention Center rather than a city subsidy for a corporation for one hotel,” Hodges said. “Can you please explain why you support a subsidy for a Convention Center hotel?

Andrew: “First, to provide a little context, the comment about ‘the vision’ was in a broader context. The commentary about the Convention Center hotel had to do with our obligation and the new mayor’s obligation to attract people to come to our city and to fill up our hotel rooms. … It’s part of an overall strategy that I am deeply interested in and I’m going to pursue very aggressively to brand our city as some place that is more attractive for convention and tourism business. … Our bigger plan has got to be to make sure that we have the facilities and the resources to provide a welcoming environment for these people to come and be with us.”

 Fine asked City Council Member Don Samuels about how he intends to work with the Park System and how he would use his veto power.

Samuels said: “I’m going to be mayor of the citizens of the city. A lot of people don’t know their park commissioners or their School Board members, but they know who the mayor is. I am going to be able to hear things about the parks that sometimes the Park Board members don’t hear. I’m going to be a conduit of information from the public and I look forward to working in that capacity.

In terms of veto power, I haven’t seen much that I would want to veto coming out of the Park Board. I think you guys do a great job.”

The response got a thumbs up from Fine. 

Business executive Stephanie Woodruff asked wind power attorney Cam Winton about his push to streamline duplicative functions within Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis. She questioned how he could get that done while still maintaining good internal controls and good service. 

Before he answered the question, Winton singled out Andrew’s description of Hodges during the August labor forum. 

“With the complete train wreck we just saw coming out of Washington, I think it’s really incumbent on people involved in the political process to police each other and live up to a higher standard of civility and good discourse,” he said. “So with great respect to Mark, I note that when the question came down the pike from Council Member Hodges I was sort of expecting you to say out loud, publicly, ‘I apologize Council Member Hodges for having said that you have a disease of a small vision. No one here is diseased. Everyone here has a vision. We may disagree about them. I’m sorry about that.’ So I was a little surprised when I didn’t hear that. You doubled down on that improper, ungentlemanly, inaccurate criticism of Council Member Hodges.”

As to Woodruff’s question, he said: “I want to see Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis streamline their back offices so there is one IT department, one HR department … I think I’m the only candidate willing to say it because I’m not interested in an endorsement from a municipal workers union.” 

Samuels question for Woodruff had a more lighthearted tone and generated a lot of laughter in the audience. He asked: “Stephanie, why do you like me so much?”

Woodruff responded: “I want to sing karaoke with you at the Vegas Lounge. I’ve been in City Hall now four years as an appointed official and I hug everybody and I hug everybody on the campaign. So whenever I see Don I just give him this big hug. If everybody hugged in the world, what a great place it would be. Just think about that.

Don, I love your passion. I have not had the opportunity to work with Don … but I have gotten to know him on the campaign and I truly, truly adore him. Whatever happens, this experience at the end of the day has changed me in terms of greater friendships and I love Don Samuels.”

Winton asked Cherryhomes the following:  “Jackie, you’ve been a lifelong resident of the city so I was hoping you could share some thoughts on how the city has changed in the course of your life.” 

Cherryhomes said: “When I think about my life growing up in Minneapolis, in my neighborhood we had a neighborhood grocery store, a neighborhood bakery, we had other neighborhood businesses — we don’t have that anymore. That’s not because of anybody’s fault in Minneapolis that’s because our economy has changed and people do things differently, but I miss that.

When I was little, downtown was a much more vibrant and interesting place and there were a lot more things for families to do in Minneapolis. I think families are strengthened by unified experiences they have together. We used to go downtown to the movies together. We used to go ice skating together. We used to do things as a family in the city. …

I also think our schools were stronger and were a more integral part of our neighborhood. I walked to my grade school. I took the city bus to my junior high school. Those are memories that I cherish and made our city stronger.”

Andrew went last and drew Hodges name, which prompted a lot of laughter. “I will trade in my Hodges if I can get Woodruff to let me ask Cam a question,” he quipped.

He went on to ask Hodges: “What are the three most important initiatives of yours in your eight years on the City Council?” 

Hodges said: “The first is reform of the closed pension funds for a number of reasons. One, it was the most egregious thing I’ve seen in government. Two, when we did that reform the pensioners got every benefit they were promised. We got out of a broken system and we saved $20 million in 2012 alone. The only people that lost out on that were the middlemen that were making money hand over fist.

They other I would say is, in general, the work I’ve done on the city’s budget. I have been the Ways and Means chair for the last four years and have been on the committee for eight years. Like I said before we have had a lot of challenges and a lot of tough choices to make. I feel proud that we have invested in our values while the same time holding on to the bottom line in building a city that has come through things so very well.

The final thing I’ll say is recycling at events.”

(FYI: The League of Women Voters of Minneapolis has posed the questions asked at the debate to all 35 mayoral candidates and will posting answers on its website.)