City Hall inauguration serves up rhetoric, then political sausage

Some SW councilmembers on outside looking in

Inaugural Day 2002 at Minneapolis City Hall’s soaring rotunda featured the traditional soaring rhetoric, but attendees also witnessed political sausage being made as the new City Council decided leadership positions. By the end of the Jan. 2 event, one Southwest councilmember had lost the council’s number-two slot to another, and two Southwest councilmembers lost committee chairmanships.

City councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), hoping to become council vice president, lost on a 7-6 vote to Robert

Lilligren (8th Ward), one of seven new councilmembers elected in November. Another newcomer, Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward), backed Goodman’s ally, Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) for council president, but otherwise voted for a slate produced by Ostrow rival Barb Johnson (4th Ward) that including Lilligren as vice-president. "I wanted to balance experience with the new," Johnson Lee said.

Goodman took the loss philosophically. "Power is what you make of it," she said. "I don’t need to have a title to be a leader."

Ironically, Goodman did get titles as a consolation prize. She wound up as chair of the Community Development committee, one of the two most powerful council committees. While council chairs have less power than in the Minnesota legislature or U.S. Congress to block consideration of legislation they don’t like, Goodman — a critic of many development initiatives including the new Downtown Target store — now controls the agenda at the first council stop for such projects.

Goodman also earned a spot on the five-member Executive Committee, which must approve key city appointments, such as police chief, before the full council can consider them. The Executive Committee slot traditionally goes to the council vice president, but Goodman, not Lilligren, will serve there.

While Johnson Lee portrayed her organizational votes as a matter of balancing old and new, Goodman saw implications for more city spending. She portrayed the selection of Johnson over 13th Ward Independent Barret Lane for chair of Ways and Means — the council’s key budget committee — as a victory for the city’s unions, which typically support city-subsidized development. Lane is considered more skeptical about such projects.

"The stranglehold of the unions in City Hall is unforgivable," Goodman said.

Lane, who was angry enough to tell his colleagues he was "done with them" at an airing-out session the next day, said denying him the Ways and Means chairmanship was "clearly not about substance, but about control" of the City Hall spending agenda by the DFL Party and labor unions.

Lane will still serve on the six-member committee. He said he would continue to push to pay down the city’s internal service fund deficit and to eliminate functions the city could no longer afford to provide. "I’m in exactly the same position I was in the last regime, and I did pretty well" pushing budget cuts, he said.

Other Southwest councilmembers cited spending initiatives for rejecting Lane. Newcomer Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) said he supported Johnson because she was willing to uphold a $10.4-million deal to fund Park Board operations and capital spending over 4 years. "I never got a commitment" from Ostrow or Lane, said Zimmermann, who represents Whittier, among other neighborhoods.

Lilligren, whose 8th Ward includes parts of Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhoods, said the relative gap between richer and poorer wards helped explain the council blocs.

"The reason I didn’t support Barret Lane as Ways and Means chair is that he’s from a ‘protection neighborhood’" — the wealthiest of three ward groupings classified by the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program. "There aren’t a lot of challenges in those neighborhoods, not a lot of sympathy for [poorer] core-city neighborhoods like mine," said Lilligren, whose ward includes the Central, Powderhorn and Phillips neighborhoods.

Lilligren noted that representatives from neighborhoods with higher poverty rates, such as Zimmermann, voted for the Johnson slate.

Also left standing in the game of musical committee chairs was newcomer Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), who had hoped to become chairman of the Zoning and Planning Committee, a post held by outgoing 10th ward councilmember Lisa McDonald. Niziolek, an ally of Ostrow and Goodman, was also in line to serve on the Minneapolis Planning Commission, but lost both posts to Gary Schiff (9th Ward), who backed the Johnson slate.

"It means I have to work less hard as chair, and I can work harder on the issues of the 10th ward," said Niziolek, who will still serve on the Zoning and Planning Committee. "I’m a realist. I will still focus on the role of the planning department, working on ways to grow the department" to effectively guide development.

New mayor R.T. Rybak, who supported Ostrow for council president and Goodman for vice-president, said he did not believe the first-day divisions would hobble council and City Hall collaboration. "They sent the message that this will be a council of change. I think [the Ostrow-Lilligren leadership team] is a good resolution," he said.