Jockeying for City Council seats has already begun

Next year is a big one for local races; 13th Ward seat draws a crowd

Sick of the election just passed? Minneapolis is now less than year away from picking a new City Council, and a handful of candidates are already running, or considering a run, for Southwest seats.

Candidates are already angling for the 13th Ward seat, since Barret Lane announced he wouldn’t seek reelection.

People in the mix include: former 10th Ward Councilmember Lisa McDonald; Jim Bernstein, former state commerce commissioner; Betsy Hodges, development director for the Minnesota Justice Foundation; Mark Lindberg, a senior program officer with the Otto Bremer Foundation; amd Jack Newton, a retired teacher.

Greg Abbott, the DFL candidate who lost to Lane in 2001, said he is thinking about running but isn’t ready to make the time commitment because his mother is very ill.

The 13th Ward — which will include all of the Linden Hills, Fulton, Armatage, Kenny and Lynnhurst neighborhoods, and East Harriet’s lakeshore — gives independents an opportunity to take the seat. They have won the last four elections; in the first two, Steve Minn, then Lane.

McDonald, 49, who lives in East Harriet, has the early advantage of name recognition and fund-raising prowess. The former Wedge resident served two Council terms and ran an unsuccessful mayoral campaign.

She got the DFL endorsement for her first Council race but not the second, and has not decided yet what party endorsements she would seek. In 2002, she served as finance director for Independence Party candidate Tim Penny’s governor’s race.

Over the years, McDonald has suffered from hearing loss, which affected her in at least one mayoral debate wherein she struggled to hear questions. In a letter to potential supporters, McDonald said she received a cochlear implant at Mayo Clinic this summer and her hearing has returned to near normal.

Bernstein, 55, said he would run as an independent. He also has Independence Party connections, serving as former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s commerce commissioner. Since then, Bernstein said he has taken a sabbatical, doing some volunteering and consulting.

Bernstein serves on the Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy board, and while he is not running on a particular issue, he would like to work on environmental issues. He also chairs the city’s Charter Commission.

Bernstein’s family has been in Minneapolis since 1867, and he is the third generation to live in his current home. He said he would make a final decision on running for Council after the first of the year.

Hodges, 35, raises money for the Minnesota Justice Foundation, an organization that creates opportunities for area law students to do public interest work and provide pro bono legal services.

She worked as an intern in Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman’s office, helping with stadium issues, tax increment financing and neighborhood issues, she said.

Hodges — who co-chairs the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council — said she loved the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and wanted to make sure residents and neighborhoods stayed involved. She also wanted to work on transportation and environmental issues. She will seek the DFL endorsement, she said.

Lindberg, 45, has served on the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council and works as a senior program officer at the Otto Bremer Foundation.

The foundation gives grants for social and economic justice, such as affordable housing, health care access and civic engagement, he said. He respects Lane’s work on financial accountability, but Lindberg said he was frustrated with Lane’s leadership on affordable housing and would like to do more himself.

Lindberg ran unsuccessfully for the DFL endorsement against state Rep. Frank Hornstein. He would seek the DFL endorsement for the Council seat, he said.

Newton, 75 "and old enough to know better," said he is exploring a Council race to promote a strong mayor system of government. As a councilmember, he would promote a charter change.

Newton is a retired Roosevelt High English teacher and served on the Council in 1965-67, he said. He currently cochairs the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council.

He said if he runs, he would probably seek DFL endorsement.

In other open seats:

Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) will not seek a second term and two Council aides have emerged as possible successors.

The new 10th Ward encompasses the East Calhoun, CARAG, Lyndale and Wedge neighborhoods, plus part of East Harriet and Cedar-Isles-Dean.

Allan Bernard, who served eight years as McDonald’s aide and three years as aide to Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward), has announced his intention to run. He resigned his Council job Oct. 29, so that he could spend more time campaigning.

Bernard is the former CARAG neighborhood president but now lives in East Calhoun, he said. He will graduate from Metro State University with an MBA this year. He is particularly interested in development and zoning issues.

Niziolek’s current aide, Gay Noble, said she also is considering a 10th Ward run.

Redistricting in Ward 8 — which will include the north and east parts of Kingfield and neighborhoods to the east of I-35W — put current Councilmember Robert Lilligren in the 6th Ward. Park Board Commissioner Marie Hauser and Jeff Hayden, former aide to Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) announced their intentions to run, making the rounds during precinct caucuses last spring.

More recently, Dennis Tifft, president of the Bryant Neighborhood Association, entered the race.

Tifft, 45, does business service training for Park Nicollet Clinic, training staff to work with customers, insurance companies and the computer system.

Tifft said he wanted to make sure the area stays safe and clean, to address residents’ property tax concerns and to improve constituent services.

Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) said he has not decided on his political future.

The new ward boundaries — which cover Whittier and Stevens Square and areas east of I-35W — have put Zimmermann, a Green, outside the 6th, pitting him against 9th Ward DFL incumbent Schiff.

Some insiders speculate Zimmermann might move to run in the new 6th, where he would run against Lilligren.

Annie Young, another Green Party member, said a lot of other Greens are interested in running, and she anticipates a meeting in early December to discuss campaigns.

"The Green Party is here to get local officials elected," she said. "No one is out the door yet."