Voter’s Guide: A primer on the eight leading mayoral candidates

Credit: Illustration by WACSO

Even the most civic-minded Minneapolitans face a daunting task to get up-to-speed on all of the candidates before Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

The 2013 Minneapolis election has attracted a record number of mayoral candidates as 35 people are seeking to replace Mayor R.T. Rybak, who has decided to step down after 12 years in office.

It’s the first time in 20 years that there is no incumbent running for mayor and it’s shaping up to be the most competitive race in a generation.

The race is also significant because it will be a big test of the ranked choice voting (RCV) system. Minneapolis will be attracting attention from across the country on Election Day to see how the voting method plays out. Voters can rank up to three candidates for each city office listed on the ballot.

The Journals’ have focused coverage on eight contenders for mayor this campaign season — candidates that have been active in debates and engaged with the community in sharing their visions for the city.

Those candidates include six DFLers Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Bob Fine, Betsy Hodges, Dan Samuels and Stephanie Woodruff, who also has the endorsement of the state’s Independence Party. The independents in the race are Dan Cohen and Cam Winton.

Andrew, Cherryhomes, Hodges and Samuels sought the DFL endorsement in June, but no candidate secured it. City Council Member Gary Schiff and special education teacher Jim Thomas also sought the endorsement, but they later dropped out of the mayoral race.

Schiff has thrown his support behind Hodges and Thomas has endorsed Andrew.

Fine and Woodruff launched campaigns after the DFL City Convention.

The issues that have dominated discussions and debates on the campaign trail include the city’s staggering racial disparities — particularly the achievement gap between affluent white students and poor minority students — police accountability, transportation, the handling of the Vikings stadium deal, escalating property taxes and environmental issues, such as whether to allow more garbage burning at the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC).

We’ve been covering these debates and comparing the candidates’ platforms on these issues for several months. 

We have also posted an online questionnaire with the more under-the-radar candidates for mayor.

The mayor’s race appears to be wide open with leading contenders raising more than $1 million as of late August, according to Hennepin County finance reports.

It’s been an exhausting, but entertaining race to cover as candidates have shared visions at dozens of debates and forums around town. Creative press conferences — especially ones organized by Winton — have attracted a lot of attention. The wind power attorney from Fulton has held press conferences from a pothole, on a bus to protest the streetcar plan, from a garbage truck and he even rented a tortoise and two rabbits for one about his plan to speed up the city’s regulatory process. 

Social media has also played a major role in campaigns. On Twitter, candidates, supporters, journalists and others have shared thoughts on the race and news from the campaign trail using the hashtag #mplsmayor. Facebook fan pages have also been a bragging point for many of the candidates.

Here is a look at the major candidates running for mayor. For full profiles, click here


Mark Andrew has a diverse background in public service and the private sector. Most recently he’s been an environmental entrepreneur with GreenMark, a company he founded in 2007.

Before launching GreenMark, Andrew was a senior vice president at Tunheim Partners, a strategic communications firm — a job that followed a lengthy tenure on the Hennepin County Board. He served as a county commissioner for 16 years — from 1982-1999 — and was elected chair of the board four times.

Andrew often touts his gift of collaboration — a trait he says is essential for the next mayor who needs to work with a variety of different layers of government.

He has backing from many labor groups. Notable endorsements include former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, influential fundraisers Sam and Sylvia Kaplan and City Council Member Lisa Goodman.

Neighborhood: Lynnhurst

Party: DFL

Current job: Head of GreenMark; owner of a French fries and s’mores stand at Minnesota State Fair 

Government experience: Former Hennepin County commissioner

Top priorities: Tackle achievement gap; make Minneapolis the greenest city in America and accelerate development and job growth throughout the city

Fundraising total: $274,145 as of Sept. 3.

His pitch: Andrew bills himself as an innovative entrepreneur with a strong leadership record in the public and private sectors 




Jackie Cherryhomes has managed a consulting business for 11 years that helps small businesses navigate government approval processes for various projects. Before that she served as president of the Minneapolis City Council from 1990 to 2002. She is a lifelong Minneapolis resident and lives in North Minneapolis with her husband F. Clayton Tyler and daughter Emma Tyler.

In an interview with the Journal earlier this year, Cherryhomes said she’s learned some key lessons from her time in City Hall. For one, she’s become a better listener.

“They way I look at things is I’m not the same person I was when I left office 11 years ago — I should hope not,” she said. “I hope we’ve all grown in that period of time. I want to take what I’ve learned both personally and professionally back to City Hall.” Key supporters include former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion and Kathleen O’Brien, former University of Minnesota vice president and City Council member.

Neighborhood: Homeward (Willard Hay)

Party: DFL

Current job: Founder of Cherryhomes-Tyler Inc., a consulting business

Government experience: Former City Council member (and City Council president)

Top priorities: Public safety, maximizing the value of public services for taxpayers and job creation

Fundraising total: $76,775 as of Sept. 3

Her pitch: She has experience as a community organizer, leading the city as City Council president and launching her own business




Dan Cohen has contributed more of his own personal cash to his campaign than any other candidate — $285,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Sept. 3. He’s spent more on advertising than the other candidates with a blitz of ads in newspapers and on television.

Cohen wants to see a casino built downtown to create jobs, boost tax revenues, revitalize downtown and give the state enough money to pay its share of the new Vikings stadium.

He is a former City Council president, Planning Commissioner, Charter Commissioner and author. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School. After serving two terms on the City Council in the late ’60s and early ‘70s, he moved to D.C. with his family to serve as special assistant to the director of the Peace Corps.

Neighborhood: Bryn Mawr

Party: Independent

Current job: Writer, Planning Commissioner, Charter Commissioner, horse owner

Government experience: Former City Council member and president; Planning and Charter commissioner

Top priorities: End the Vikings stadium deal, end racism in the police force, end conflicts of interest on the Planning Commission, charter reform

Fundraising total: $1,176 as of Sept. 3

His pitch: He’ll advocate for a casino to spur job growth and get the city out of business with the Wilfs




With both grandparents and grandchildren who’ve called this city home, Bob Fine is smack in the middle of a five-generation Minneapolis family.

Get Fine talking about his hometown, though, and it won’t be long before he brings up the city’s park system. The four-term Park Board commissioner has had a lifelong passion for the city’s green spaces; a lifeguard as a teenager, he’s nearing his fourth decade coaching park league youth sports teams as an adult.

Fine is running for mayor to bring a bit of the Park Board to City Hall. He says the Park Board learned to operate more efficiently during recent lean years, while city officials have avoided tough decisions.

A self-described “fiscal conservative,” Fine aims to cut property taxes and make Minneapolis better for small and large businesses. He’s also expressed skepticism about reviving the city’s streetcar system, a plan with a $200-million price tag just for the initial 3.4-mile line on Nicollet and Central avenues.

Neighborhood: Linden Hills

Party: DFL

Current job: Park Board commissioner, real estate attorney and real estate manager

Government experience: Has served on the Park Board for 16 years, the Board of Estimate and Taxation for 16 years

Top priorities: Audit each city department, cut property taxes 5 percent and create a better environment for business

Fundraising total: $5,765 as of Sept. 3

His pitch: Fine is a fiscal conservative who’d find ways to make City Hall more efficient




A two-term City Council member and chair of the budget committee, Betsy Hodges early on emerged as a frontrunner in the race to replace Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The mayor hasn’t endorsed a successor, but Rybak and Hodges worked closely during her tenure to stabilize the city budget, paying down debts, securing a AAA bond rating and merging police and fire pension funds into a state plan. That last move was estimated to save city taxpayers millions annually.

Hodges grew up in Minnetonka and went to high school in Plymouth. She earned a masters degree in sociology from University of Wisconsin-–Madison after completing her undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

She worked for Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman prior to her first run for office, and like many local progressives cites the late Sen. Paul Wellstone as an influence.

Hodges is married to Metropolitan Council Member Gary Cunningham, although the two have for years kept separate residences because Cunningham’s District 7 and Hodges’ Ward 13 don’t overlap.

Neighborhood: Linden Hills

Party: DFL

Current job: City Council member (Ward 13)

Government experience: Before being elected to the Council, Hodges worked as an aide to Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman

Top priorities: Reduce the city’s racial disparities, improve transit options and keep the city’s fiscal house in order

Fundraising total: $188,774 contributions as of Sept. 3

Her pitch: She credits her work on the Council with helping Minneapolis fare better in the recession compared to other cities




Two-term City Council Member Don Samuels (5th Ward) has made tackling racial disparities in the schools and employment the central focus in his campaign. He also prides himself on choosing to raise his family in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods so he can be involved in community work to make a difference.

He was raised in Jamaica — one of 10 kids raised by a seamstress mother and minister father. He came to America with $83 in his pocket. Despite his modest upbringing, he climbed the corporate ladder securing an executive job with a Fortune 500 company and then launched his own small business.

Samuels is former secretary of Jordan Area Community Council, Juvenile Guardian ad Litem volunteer, founder of PEACE Foundation (now the Northside Achievement Zone), also founded the African American Economic Development Committee and the Institute for Authentic Dialogue on race. He was first elected to the City Council in 2003. He immigrated to the United States in 1970 to study industrial design. Key endorsements include former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel, former Minnesota Governor Al Quie and Lorraine Rybak-Mesken (Mayor R.T. Rybak’s mother).

Neighborhood: Jordan

Party: DFL

Current job: 5th Ward City Council Member since 2003

Government experience: Two-term City Council member

Top priorities: Close regional gaps in income, education and employment; improve public safety; streamline regulatory process to make city more business friendly

Fundraising total: $101,602 as of Sept. 3

His pitch: Samuels believes he is the most qualified to tackle the city’s racial disparities




Cam Winton, an independent in a DFL-dominated city, has embraced the role of the outsider in this year’s mayoral contest.

Winton has mastered the art of the press conference photo-op, posing in a pothole to highlight poor road conditions, criticizing a streetcar plan from the back of a city bus and renting a tortoise and hare to make a point about the city’s slow permitting process. They’re gimmicks in service of a serious point: Winton says City Hall needs “fresh eyes and fresh thinking.”

A Pennsylvania native, Winton got his start in politics on Republican Sam Katz’s 1999 campaign for mayor of Philadelphia (like Minneapolis, a solidly blue city). Katz narrowly lost, and Winton went on to work for democratic presidential campaigns.

After law school, Winton worked as an attorney for a wind turbine company and started a family. His politics shifted rightward, but the fiscal conservative who identifies as Republican says he remains a moderate on social issues: He supported the “Vote No” campaign against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Neighborhood: Fulton

Party: independent

Current job: Senior counsel for Duke Energy; specializes in wind power

Government experience: None

Top priorities: Focusing city resources on the basics: boosting road paving and hiring more cops; education and city regulatory reform

Fundraising total: $72,800 as of Sept. 3

His pitch: Winton often says he’d bring “fresh eyes” to the City Hall and isn’t beholden to the interests of the city’s DFL party




Stephanie Woodruff is a DFL candidate, but has the endorsement of the Independence Party. She serves as vice chair of the city’s new Audit Committe. She is an executive at recruiting and staffing company Search Leaders and part owner of AverQ, a California-based company that develops auditing software.

Woodruff has blasted city officials over the handling of the Vikings stadium deal — arguing the process lacked transparency and violated the spirit of the City Charter. If elected, she said she would put “people over projects” and invest in impoverished neighborhoods. She has also pledged to institute a checkbook level transparency of city spending so taxpayers can keep track of city finances. She has also committed to defer half the mayor’s salary — $53,000 — and put it in a separate fund. If progress hasn’t been made on reducing the achievement gap in the city’s schools, she’s put that money toward a special fund for the schools.

Neighborhood: Whittier

Party: DFL (endorsed by Independence Party)

Current job: Corporate governance software owner/executive and finance/accounting recruiter

Government experience: Vice chair of city’s Audit Committee 

Top priorities: Work on the city’s achievement gap; focus on the basics of city government; make city government more transparent 

Fundraising total: $5,040 as of Sept. 3

Her pitch: Woodruff says she would “people before politics” and “people before projects”