City DFLers spurn School Board incumbents

The Minneapolis Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) convention on May 15 endorsed political newcomers Lydia Lee and Peggy Flanagan for two of the three open Board of Education seats in the November election. Two incumbents, Dennis Schapiro and Sharon Henry-Blythe, were not endorsed.

Schapiro, a Linden Hills resident, and Henry-Blythe, who lives in South Minneapolis, said they would not decide whether to keep running until after the current School Board chooses a new school superintendent next month. In the past year, the Board decided to promote Chief Operating Officer David Jennings to superintendent and close several schools in the face of funding cuts, only to abandon both decisions amid public opposition.

"I think that, in some quarters, there is unhappiness with what's happened in the Minneapolis schools, and that was reflected at the DFL convention within the rank and file," Schapiro said. "There is always a question of the depth of understanding they have regarding any one individual's performance, but it's clear that they were not happy with the way the schools are going."

Lee, a district employee who implements middle school programs and will retire from her job in June, said she sensed a backlash against incumbents at the convention but added that neither Henry-Blythe or Schapiro put much of an effort into their campaigns.

"I put a great deal of time and energy seeking those endorsements, and I think that made a difference," Lee said. "The hardest part for me is done, the remaining time will be spent going out into the community, and that's the part that I love, talking to people."

Ironically, Schapiro and fellow incumbent Judy Farmer helped mentor Lee and Flanagan as fledgling candidates. Schapiro called Lee, a fellow Linden Hills resident, an attractive candidate from Southwest. As for the 24-year-old Flanagan, he said that while there will be a steep learning curve for her, she is a terrific investment in the future. Schapiro said Flanagan, an Ojibwe, has the potential to do some things with the American Indian community that have not been done before. The North Side resident would be the first American Indian elected to the Board.

Lee and Flanagan received 75 percent and 78 percent of 769 delegate votes on the first ballot, respectively, above the 60 percent endorsement threshold. Both had the support of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, and the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Progressive Minnesota.

Schapiro received 46 percent on the first ballot, 42 percent on the second ballot and 50 percent on the third ballot before the convention ended for lack of a quorum. Many delegates withheld support for Schapiro because he said he might run even if he didn't receive party endorsement.

Henry-Blythe, the board's only black member and its chairwoman, fared worse. She received 29 percent on the first ballot and 19 percent on the second ballot before dropping out. Unlike Schapiro, she was not endorsed by unions, a key DFL constituency.

Asked why her membership endorsed Schapiro and not Henry-Blythe, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Louise Sundin said, "We felt that Denny did a better job of meeting with and getting out into the community to talk about issues. The School Board as an entity has really been going in the opposite direction.

"Sharon said a few things in her screening that really angered the teachers," Sundin said. "Plus, all of the unions were upset about the Board thumbing their nose at labor agreements and contracts. They were also upset with the Board's willingness to take David Jennings' word for things and not have any inclusive processes for making decisions."

A third incumbent, Ross Taylor, is not seeking reelection. Three other challengers were not endorsed: Mohamed Jibrell, Greg Holdworth and Gloria Freeman. Jibrell was the only one who reached the third ballot, receiving 48 percent of votes cast.

Historically, the DFL endorsement virtually ensures a seat on the seven-member School Board. All four endorsed DFLers won in 2002, as did two of three 2001 endorsees, with only Schapiro (who did not seek endorsement that year) topping Patrick Peterson.

By leaving a third seat unendorsed, DFLers have increased the chances a non-DFLer could capture the seat. Minneapolis Republicans endorsed David Dayhoff, a Tangletown resident, earlier this spring. Another Republican, John Uldrich, has expressed interest in running. Two candidates, Kari Tauring and Kingfield resident Doug Mann, failed to get Green Party endorsement May 23. Candidates have until July 20 to file for the Sept. 14 primary. Six candidates will make the November ballot, and three winners begin serving four-year terms in January.